The American Pharmacists Association is discouraging pharmacists from participating in executions by lethal injection.

The group's new statement was based on the idea that participating in intentional deaths is contrary to the core values of health care providers.

The APhA House of Delegates released two previous policies related to lethal injection. In 1985, the group stated opposition to laws that forced or prohibited the participation of pharmacists in such programs. In 2004, the group opined that the word "drug" should not be used when referring to the chemicals used during such executions.

"Pharmacists are health care providers, and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession's role on the patient health-care team. This new policy aligns APhA with the execution policies of other major health care associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Board of Anesthesiology," said Thomas Menighan, executive vice president and CEO of APhA.

Lethal injection, the most common form of capital punishment in the United States, typically involves the use of three chemicals. The first of these, usually a barbiturate, puts the target to sleep. The second causes paralysis, resulting in the cessation of breathing. Lastly, a potassium solution causes the heart to stop beating, resulting in death. In other cases, a single large, fatal dose of barbiturates is utilized to carry out the execution.

Many corrections officials state that the practice of lethal injection is quick and painless, but critics charge the method is inhumane.

Julius Mount Bleyer, a physician from New York, first proposed the method of execution in 1888, claiming the process would be less expensive than hanging. Nazi Germany later used lethal injections as part of its widespread programs of genocide.

"Physicians in Nazi Germany initially used lethal injection in the course of the Nazi euthanasia program against the country's physically and intellectually disabled children and adults in the late 1930s and early 1940s (referred to now as Action T4). Poison gas was adopted later as lethal injection became prohibitively expensive," Death Penalty Focus reports.

After a four-year hiatus, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty to be constitutional, allowing states to once again adopt the practice. At the time, states with laws allowing capital punishment utilized hanging, electrocution or gas chambers as methods of execution. Charles Brooks Jr. was the first American prisoner executed by the method on Dec. 2, 1982, in Texas. Currently, nearly all of the 32 states that allow capital punishment use lethal injection.

Drugs to carry out these executions are coming into short supply in the United States, as European manufacturers refuse to sell the chemicals to American governments when the product is likely to be used in executions. The last American manufacturer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, stopped manufacturing the product in 2010.

Photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty | Flickr

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