When the Nebraska Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay of execution in
favour of death-row inmate Michael Ryan, it was not just Ryan who breathed a
sigh of relief but also the proprietors of a pharmaceutical company in faraway
Kashipur in Uttarakhand.
For, had the execution proceeded as per schedule on March 6, Ryan would have
been injected with drugs made by the Swiss-Indian company, Naari, which has
since last August consistently argued that 485 grams of sodium thiopental, an
unconsciousness-inducing drug, was taken from it under false pretences and
handed over to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS).
Why is a U.S. prison using execution drugs obtained though allegedly fraudulent
means, from India? Lethal injection procedures in this country have, for the
last few years, been rocked by the voluntary shutdown of a firm called Hospira,
oddly the sole producer of sodium thiopental in the U.S. at the time.
Since that event in 2010, a slew of correctional facilities have continued to
seek out alternative suppliers of the drug or switch to pentobarbital, a
veterinary euthanasia barbiturate used to put down dogs. After attempts to
source sodium thiopental from a firm in the United Kingdom met with a storm of
opposition across Europe and led to the ban of all such drug exports to the
U.S. in that continent, one Mumbai-based firm called Kayem Pharmaceuticals was
contacted by an intermediary acting on behalf of the NDCS.
When a U.K.-based anti-death penalty group called Reprieve highlighted the fact
that despite not being approved by U.S. regulators, Kayem had handed over 500
one-gram vials of thiopental — enough to kill 166 men — to the middleman named
Chris Harris, and then it had passed on to the NDCS, the intense pressure on
Kayem led to it stating publicly that it would immediately halt all exports of
thiopental to the U.S.
Yet the fate of Naari's drugs remains uncertain, this despite Naari CEO Prithi
Kochhar dashing off an anxious letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice
Michael Heavican, in which he said he was “shocked and appalled” by the
prospect that Naari's drugs could thus be used in execution procedures.
Mr. Kochhar went on to explain to the Chief Justice that “the agreement with
Mr. Harris was that he would use these vials for registration in Zambia. Our
intention was to get the product registered in Zambia and then begin selling it
there, since sodium thiopental is used very widely as an anaesthetic in the
Mr. Kochhar's hope is that the drugs that he alleges Mr. Harris misappropriated
and diverted from their intended purpose would be “returned immediately to its
rightful owners, that is, that it be returned to us at Naari.” If his wish is
granted, the court would have to deny the right of the thiopental-starved NDCS
to inject Ryan with an untested, uncertified chemical.
(source: The Hindu)