Lethal injection is the most common method of execution in the United States, albeit more and more alternative methods are being used as concerns grow over the use of intravenous drugs as a killing tool.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has shed a different kind of light on these lethal injection drugs, particularly the following:  midazolam; vecuronium bromide; rocuronium bromide; fentanyl; cisatracurium besylate; and etomidate.

University of Miami Professor Joins Doctors’ Request for Execution Drugs

On April 6, 2020, a joint letter signed by Kenneth W. Goodman, PhD, FACMI, FACE, University of Miami Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, and six fellow renowned medical professionals was sent to every state with a lethal injection drug inventory, asking for the release of the drugs for use in the care and treatment of COVID-19 victims.

Dr. Goodman is both (1) founder and director of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy and (2) co-director of the University’s Ethics Programs. The Miller School of Medicine’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy is designated one of the ten (10) worldwide World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers in Ethics and Global Health Policy.

Joining University of Miami Professor Goodman as signatories are:

  • Joel B. Zivot, MD, FRCP(C), MA, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Surgery, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA;
  • Joshua M. Sharfstein, M.D., Professor of the Practice, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health;
  • Prashant Yadav, Ph.D., Lecturer, Harvard Medical School & Fellow, Center for Global Development;
  • Donald F. Downing, Clinical Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Washington;
  • Robert B. Greifinger, MD, Consultant on Public Health in Corrections; and
  • Leonidas George Koniaris, MD, Professor of Surgery, Indiana University School of Medicine.

Letter Urges That Execution Drugs Can Save Coronavirus Victims’ Lives

The full text of their letter can be read online here. Here is an excerpt (footnotes omitted):

“In this pandemic, it is increasingly clear that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States will die. Yet personal experience and medical knowledge demonstrate that patients in the ICU sickened by COVID‐19 are still able to survive this infection with proper medical care. Your stockpile could save the lives of hundreds of people; though this may be a small fraction of the total anticipated deaths, it is a central ethical directive that medicine values every life. Those who might be saved could include a colleague, a loved one, or even you.

“For years, pharmaceutical companies and health experts have warned that states’ pursuit of execution drugs create public health risks and “could result in the denial of medicines from patients who need them most.” In this time of crisis, these risks have never been more acute, and our health system has never more desperately needed the medicines you currently hold for use in executions. Every last vial of medicine could mean the difference between life and death.  

“We urgently ask you to send any execution drug supplies in your storerooms to hospitals where they are needed to treat critically ill COVID‐19 patients. At this crucial moment for our country, we must prioritize the needs and lives of patients above ending the lives of prisoners.”

For more, read “Death Penalty States Urged to Release Stockpiled Drugs for Covid-19 Patients,” written by Ed Pilkington and published by The Guardian on April 13, 2020.

Will the execution drugs be released for use in treating Coronavirus patients?

Each state must make its own decision in response to this request.  Of note, the letter references the Florida Department of Corrections has having rocuronium bromide inventories which the physicians opine could be used to intubate approximately 100 COVID‐19 patients.

For more about lethal injection method of execution, read: