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August 5, 2006

Big efforts to halt Big Sky execution

The mania caused by the death penalty is now playing out in Montana as detailed in news articles here and here.  As these articles explain, "civil liberty and church groups [are] trying to stop the Aug. 11 execution of triple-murderer David Dawson" by now attacking in federal court Montana's lethal injection protocol even though, long ago, "Dawson withdrew from all attempts to postpone or change his death sentence [and] has disavowed the current attempt."

I always find sad irony in the efforts of civil liberty groups to stop executions when the defendant is a volunteer given that these groups generally support the right to die for the terminally ill.  If Dawson was an innocent person facing a short life of extreme physical pain, these groups would be trying to safeguard Dawson's right to end his life.  But, because Dawson is a convicted murderer facing a long life of extreme physical confinement, these groups are trying to prevent Dawson from allowing the state to end his life.

August 5, 2006 at 08:38 AM | Permalink


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I am personally opposed to both capital punishment and assisted suicide, but it's not at all clear to me how the civil liberties groups you identify are engaged in any contradiction. First of all, unlike someone with a terminal illness, the imprisoned can read and write, among other things, providing a method of potentially valuable engagement with the world that would make such a life objectively preferable to death (and if there's no 'objective' part to the preferment standard, you're not pro-right-to-die, you're just pro-right-of-suicide). Second, even if we judge that such a life is not objectively worth living, or decide to defer to the prisoner in the matter, then it seems like the relevant thing would be to allow him to consult with a physician about arrangments to end his life. Allowing the state to execute him without a fight not only fulfills his wish to die, but also carries the externality of reaffirming the state's right to kill as a punishment for a crime, whether the prisoner consents or not. If you're opposed to that externality, it seems entirely consistent to oppose the sentence in this case without any contradiction, even if you support the prisoner's right to choose death for himself.

Posted by: Ryan Miller | Aug 5, 2006 11:08:23 AM

First, civil liberties groups are steeped in contradictionist history, so such an accusation is neither surprising nor untenable.

Second, however, I think there is a big difference between irony and contradiction. Sometimes contradiction lends to irony, but just because something is ironic, doesn't necessarily mean there is a contradiction at work.

In this case, there is unquestionable irony at the most basic level. When someone argues that an innocent should be allowed to die if they so choose, but subsequently argues that a murderer should live despite similar wishes to die or at least acquiesces in death, the irony is indeed thick.

Your point, Ryan, that the group's position is not internally contradictory because they aren't arguing against the right to die but rather against the state's role in the capital context, is of course understood. But, again, irony does not always translate to contradiction.

Posted by: SPD | Aug 5, 2006 12:11:09 PM

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