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October 3, 2007

Intriguing insights about lethal injection concerns

Both Capital Defense Weekly and StandDown Texas Project have lots of new posts on various capital punishment issues, and my favorite read is this piece at Reason by Jacob Sullum entitled, "Injection Injunction: Are we just one tweak away from the perfect execution method?".  Here are some thought-provoking snippets:

By agreeing to consider a challenge to current methods of lethal injection, the Supreme Court has begun to tinker quite literally with the machinery of death, a repair job that promises to further slow an already creaky contraption. For opponents of the death penalty, the ultimate goal is a finding that execution is unconstitutional in practice because it cannot always be carried out instantly and painlessly.

As a matter of constitutional law, I think they're wrong.  But the squeamishness reflected by the continuing quest for a perfect execution method suggests the abolitionists may ultimately win the policy debate, and perhaps they should....

All [execution] methods, if they're done properly, can kill a man with minimal pain, but they can also be botched, and none is pleasant to witness. 

On that score, it's striking that abolitionists' accounts of botched executions often feature gruesome details that do not indicate prolonged suffering, such as involuntary defecation, smoking skin, and accidentally severed heads.  If a man is already unconscious or dead, the condition of his body cannot cause him any discomfort.  Why does it still upset people who see or hear about it?

This is a question that should interest conservatives who believe disgust reflects moral intuition.  If the aim is to quickly and reliably kill people while inflicting as little pain as possible, it would be hard to improve on the guillotine or a close-range shot to the back of the head.  Yet we shrink from such methods, perhaps because they too vividly display the reality of killing a man in cold blood.

October 3, 2007 at 01:10 PM | Permalink

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