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updated 1/24/2011 10:58:39 AM ET 2011-01-24T15:58:39

Germany's leading medical association called Monday on the nation's pharmaceutical companies to refrain from selling a drug used in lethal injections to the United States.

Frank Ulrich Montgomery, vice president of the German Medical Association, told The Associated Press on Monday the nation's doctors are throwing their support behind a call by the health ministry for German drug companies and distributors to reject U.S. requests for the drug, sodium thiopental.

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"We are calling on the German pharmaceutical industry to send a clear signal that it recognizes its ethical responsibility and refrain from selling any drugs to the United States that could be used in carrying out the death penalty," Montgomery said.

"This is not about money, but ethical principles," he added.

Last week the sole U.S. producer of sodium thiopental — which is used as part of a three-drug combination for lethal injections in 35 states — said it was ceasing production due to objections by authorities in Italy, where the company had been making it.

Several states started facing shortages in the fall, causing them to search abroad for sources of the drug. One source dried up in November when the British government banned exports of sodium thiopental for use in executions.

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Story: Key death penalty drug discontinued by U.S. maker

Planned executions in the U.S. states of Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma are currently facing delays or disruptions, due to the shortage.

Over the weekend, Germany's health ministry said Minister Philipp Roesler wrote a letter to the nation's pharmaceutical companies urging them to ignore any possible U.S. requests for deliveries of the drug.

Germany, along with Italy and Britain, banned capital punishment after World War II. In 2008, the European Union issued a declaration against the death penalty and has lobbied for its abolition worldwide.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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