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Corporate Participation in the Death Penalty

Drug companies are often accused of engaging in, or of complicity in, all manner of wrongdoing. It’s less often (though certainly not unheard of) that they’re accused of participation in actual killings, or offered the opportunity to save a life. This is one of those cases. The story begins here, with a heinous crime not […]

Drug companies are often accused of engaging in, or of complicity in, all manner of wrongdoing.

It’s less often (though certainly not unheard of) that they’re accused of participation in actual killings, or offered the opportunity to save a life. This is one of those cases.

The story begins here, with a heinous crime not committed by any corporation: Jury Finds Steven Hayes Guilty In Connecticut Triple Murder

Steven Hayes was found guilty today in the deadly home invasion that left a woman and her two daughters brutalized and murdered, making him eligible for the death penalty….

Hayes may well be executed, but only if a subsequent legal proceeding results in that decision, and only if the state of Connecticut has the help of a particular corporation, namely the one that supplies the drug necessary for lethal injection. And that help can’t be assumed. To begin, there are reports that one of the suppliers is having trouble supplying a key drug used in lethal injection.

Not everyone thinks that shortage is a bad thing. See this piece, by Jim Edwards, writing for Bnet: Why Hospira Should Stop Supplying Prisons With Lethal Injection Drugs

Hospira (HSP), the company that makes the lethal injection Pentothal used in death row executions, says the restricted supply of the drug that has halted executions across the country is caused by supplier issues and has nothing to do with the company’s distaste for the death penalty. But why shouldn’t Hospira cut off prisons from their supply of Pentothal?

Now, I don’t know whether Hospira is the company that Connecticut relies on to facilitate its executions (Ewards’ article lists only Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Arizona and California). But the drugs they use come from somewhere, either Hospira or another drug company.

So, I’m going to ask you to engage in an exercise in imagination. Forget, for a moment, what your own view on the death penalty really is. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • IF the death penalty is morally justified, is Hospira (or another company) required to sell the requisite drug to the state in question? May they opt out? Must they remain in some sense “neutral” on this hot-button issue?
  • IF the death penalty is morally unjustified, is Hospira (or another company) required not to participate? Or is the company blameless for its participation? If the company is blameworthy for participating, are we likewise to blame the company that makes the gurney that Hayes will lie in as the drug is injected? The company that makes the needle? Why or why not?

Again, even if you have strong views on the death penalty itself, please do your best to set that aside and consider more specifically the ethics of business participation in the practice.