09 August 2018 at 10:10 BST

German pharma company takes on death row

Nebraska's first-ever lethal injection could be delayed or stopped for good by a suit claiming state illegally acquired drugs.


German pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi has filed a lawsuit to stop Nebraska from going forward with an execution scheduled for next week. Fresenius Kabi, which opposes the use of its drugs in executions, claimed the state may have illegally obtained the drugs.

contract terms

The suit states that Nebraska was planning to use two of the German company's drugs in a four-drug combo lethal injection to execute Carey Dean Moore. Mr Moore was sentenced to death for murdering two taxi drivers in Omaha in 1979, and his is no longer fighting the execution order. However, the pharma company’s suit may delay or permanently put a stop to the August 14 execution. They make distributors buying their drugs sign an agreement not to sell them to correctional departments. The lawsuit states,  ‘while Fresenius Kabi takes no position on capital punishment, Fresenius Kabi opposes the use of its products for this purpose and therefore does not sell certain drugs to correctional facilities.’ They also state the company could suffer ‘great reputational injury’ if its drugs are used for executions, as capital punishment is both illegal and viewed negatively in Europe. Nebraska plans to use an untested four-drug combination for the lethal injection: A sedative called diazepam; a powerful painkiller fentanyl citrate; cisatracurium besylate to induce paralysis and halt breathing; and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

European opposition

Fresenius Kabi alleged the state's supply of potassium chloride is stored in 30-milliliter vials and that it is the only company to store the drug in vials that size. The drugmaker also said it may have manufactured the cisatracurium besylate Nebraska plans to use. Attorney general's office in Nebraska issued a statement that the drugs for the lethal injection ‘were purchased lawfully’ and in accordance with the state's ‘duty’ to carry out capital punishment sentences. However, the state's department of correctional services has not said who supplied the drugs. If the execution goes ahead, it would be Nebraska's first execution in 21 years and the first use of a lethal injection in the state. The state used the electric chair in the last execution in 1997, which the Nebraska Supreme Court later ruled was unconstitutional. Drugs used for lethal injections have become harder for US correctional facilities to acquire due to opposition to the death penalty, and drug manufacturers, particularly European companies, have stopped supplying the drugs.


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