Parliament Tighten EU Ban on “Torture Goods”

11.10.2016 -

The European Parliament’s (EP) recently revised rules to prevent trade in goods and services that may contribute to torture or execution could potentially have further knock-on effects for the pharmaceutical sector. In negotiations with member states on updating the 2005 “Anti-torture Regulation,” the EP inserted a ban on the marketing and transit of equipment used for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people in third countries, which could also include drugs used in executions.

The agreed text was approved by 612 votes to 11 with 54 abstentions. The European Commission must review the implementation of the regulation by August 2020. “Banning the death penalty and torture are key goals of European trade and foreign policy, and it is essential that EU companies do not contribute to these practices,” said rapporteur Marietje Schaake. “We made the new legislation stronger and more flexible so that the EU can respond quickly to any changes and to the development of new technologies,” she said.

Buying and selling online, along with offline advertising, of banned goods that have no other practical use than execution or torture (such as electric chairs, automatic drug injection systems or spiked thumbscrews) will now be illegal, and the ban will also extend to exhibitions and trade fairs within the EU. Previously, legal loopholes had allowed certain items to be advertised and displayed at such events.

Transit of prohibited goods via EU territory will also now be prohibited. Transporters will be required to stop the transit of controlled goods, that is products that have been designed for other purposes but could be used for torture (including weapons designed for riot control or certain anesthetics used in lethal injections) if they know that the shipment will end up in the wrong hands.

The MEPs have additionally expanded the scope of the procedure that enables the Commission to quickly add new items to the lists of those that are banned or controlled. After the Council formally approves, the new regulation will enter into force on the third day after its publication in the EU Official Journal.

The EU had already tightened the screws on some pharmaceutical products in 2011, thereby contributing to the already short supply of drugs that still continues to slow executions in the US – the only developed Western country that applies the death penalty. The move five years ago meant that European firms exporting drugs such as the sedative sodium thiopental used in lethal injections were required to assure their products would not be used for executions.

With European supplies having all but dried up and US pharmaceutical producers such as Pfizer recently rewriting their guidelines for drugs that could be used in executions, US prisons have increasingly pursued illegal exports, with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in many cases seizing the illegal supplies.

The state of Virginia has found an alternative method of obtaining drugs for lethal injection, at a price. In the space of a year, the cost of buying drugs has skyrocketed from about $525 per execution to $16,500, according to a report in the newspaper Richmond Times-Dispatch, published in the state’s capital. The paper said the price rose after the state legislature passed a law allowing the purchase of execution drugs from compounding pharmacies whose identities are kept secret. In 2014, Virginia’s Department of Corrections said, buying from drugmakers cost slightly less than $250.