By Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday halted what was to have been the first U.S. execution to use the popular anesthetic propofol, following threats from the European Union to limit the drug’s export if it were used for that purpose.
Nixon also ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to come up with a different way to perform lethal injections without propofol, the leading anesthetic used in America’s hospitals and clinics. Nearly 90 percent of the nation’s propofol is imported from Europe.
“As governor, my interest is in making sure justice is served and public health is protected,” Nixon said in a news release. “That is why, in light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions, I have directed the Department of Corrections that the execution of Allen Nicklasson, as set for October 23, will not proceed.”
Nixon, a Democrat and staunch supporter of the death penalty, did not specifically mention the EU threat in his brief statement. Nixon was Missouri’s longtime attorney general before he was first elected governor in 2008. During his 16 years as attorney general, 59 men were executed.
The leading propofol maker, Germany-based Fresenius Kabi, and anesthesiologists had warned of a possible propofol shortage that could impact millions of Americans if any executions took place.
In a news release, Fresenius Kabi applauded Nixon’s move.
“This is a decision that will be welcomed by the medical community and patients nationwide who were deeply concerned about the potential of a drug shortage,” said John Ducker, CEO of Fresenius Kabi USA. The company said propofol is administered about 50 million times annually in the United States.
Drug makers in recent years have stopped selling potentially lethal pharmaceuticals to prisons and corrections departments because they don’t want them used in executions. That has left the nearly three dozen death penalty states, including Missouri, scrambling for alternatives.
Missouri altered its execution protocol in April 2012 to use propofol. The drug gained some level of infamy in 2009 when pop star Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose.
Nixon’s decision also leaves uncertain the execution scheduled for next month for another convicted killer, Joseph Franklin.
Soon after Nixon’s announcement, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a motion with the Missouri Supreme Court to vacate the Oct. 23 execution date for Nicklasson and to set a new date “soon after” Franklin’s execution date of Nov. 20. Nicklasson was convicted of killing a man who stopped to help after Nicklasson’s car broke down on a highway in 1994.
In addition to concerns raised about how the EU would respond to the execution, Missouri’s decision to use propofol prompted a lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly two dozen death row inmates claiming use of the unproven execution drug could result in pain and suffering for the condemned man.