WASHINGTON — Dozens of Catholic organizations have joined in calling on a national pharmacists organization to bar its members from assisting in state-sponsored executions.

"As Catholic people of faith, we ask that you not only consider the ethical codes breached when pharmacists use their training and tools to facilitate state-sponsored killings, but also consider the profound moral codes that call upon all of us to respect the sacred dignity of every God-given human life," said the letter, organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

Released May 21, it was sent to the American Pharmacists Association.

The issue arises as various states have been forced to suspend scheduled executions by lethal injection because of difficulties associated with getting the drugs that have been used.

As explained in the letter, "All producers of the primary drugs necessary for state-sponsored killings have banned their products from use in executions. States intent on carrying out executions have now turned to compounding pharmacists to obtain drugs that have and will, painfully or slowly, cause the death of the recipient."

The letter noted that not only Catholic leaders, but the "larger medical pharmaceutical community" has criticized the practice of lethal injection. The American Medical Association, the American Board of Anesthesiology and the Society of Correctional Physicians have banned their members from participating in executions, it said.

In one case being widely cited in criticism of execution protocols, an Oklahoma execution April 29 using a new combination of drugs failed, leaving convicted killer Clayton Lockett showing signs of pain before the procedure was halted. Lockett later died of a heart attack.

The U.S. Supreme Court May 21 postponed a Missouri execution and told lower courts to sort out the legal issues of death-row inmate Russell Bucklew. His attorneys say he has a disease called cavernous hemangioma,  which creates a "substantial likelihood" that he would have hemorrhaging, choking, obstruction of airways and suffocation if given the lethal drugs. The appeal argues that "lethal injection of any sort will likely violate Mr. Bucklew's rights under the Eighth Amendment," prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

The letter from the Catholic organization asked the pharmacists to respect that as Catholics "we believe the true measure of every institution in society is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person. This includes our criminal justice system."

It concluded by saying that the signers understand that pharmacists are free to form their own opinions, but that nevertheless, the organization ban members from participating in executions because "they have a sworn  oath to put the 'well-being of the patient at the center of professional practice.'"

Signers of the letter included several theologians and ethics professors as well as representatives of: the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Pax Christi USA; the Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University New Orleans; Community of Sant'Egidio USA; theology and ethics professors; sisters from numerous religious orders; and Glenmary and Comboni missionaries.