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April 2, 2008

Lethal injection complaints going to the dogs

Sherry Colb has this essay online at FindLaw, titled "Lethal Injection and Animal Euthanasia: A Fair Comparison?". Here are excerpts:

One argument that surfaces repeatedly in debates about lethal injection revolves around a comparison with the practice of euthanizing pets.  Opponents of the three-drug cocktail have claimed that one of the chemicals used was deemed inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in connection with euthanizing animals....

Some opponents of lethal injection ... have argued that euthanasia protocols demonstrate a shocking reality — namely, that animals are treated more humanely than human beings undergoing lethal injection.  Those who take this view express outrage at the prospect of veterinarians exercising greater care in guarding against the suffering of mere dogs and cats than our society exercises in protecting the human beings in our custody.  Clearly, the argument goes, we have our priorities badly distorted if we are placing the needs of animals over those of human beings.  But is that a fair characterization of the facts? ...

Despite the important distinctions to be drawn between pets and condemned murders and between pets and animals generally, the humane approach to euthanizing pets may nonetheless be instructive to the Supreme Court as it considers execution by lethal injection....

Ultimately, then, the humane euthanasia of suffering pets teaches us that we can do better by our death row population, even if we are not yet prepared to abolish capital punishment.  At the same time, it should teach us that we can do far better by the domesticated animals on whom we blithely and unnecessarily inflict suffering and death in the cause of satisfying our appetite for flesh.  The planned death of a beloved pet helps show us just how far we have to travel to make the truly humane treatment of animals a reality.

April 2, 2008 at 08:16 AM | Permalink


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Let's just remember that lethal injection was ushered in by those who considered it more humane than other methods. So are those people saying we should return to electrocutions? No, they are saying we should adopt another method (opioid overdose) which they claim is more humane - but keeps executions a medical procedure whereby the AMA and others can later condemn as "cruel."

It's not really at all about pain but how to systematically abolish the death penalty using the courts to override the will of the People.

Posted by: | Apr 2, 2008 8:46:09 AM

"using the courts to override the will of the People."

You know, opponents of the death penalty might just see the Constitution, which *IS* the will of the people, as having a say here.

And further, the "will of the People" is not an all-conquering, inevitable good thing. We have a system of checks & balances, and a set of guaranteed Rights (you know, what we colloquially call a whole "Bill" of 'em) to ensure that "the will of the People" doesn't trample the rights of a person.

Posted by: Reader | Apr 2, 2008 9:39:07 AM

The AVMA has banned the use of a neuromuscular blocking agent in the same syringe as the anesthetic drug. This is so because it was difficult to know which drug would take effect first. The AVMA has been careful to say that their action does not have anything to do with the serial administration of drugs in a lethal injection. The anti-death penalty crowd (along with the mainstream media) has misrepresented the AVMA's action so frequently that the AVMA was forced to issue a statement on the cover of their euthanasia publication stating that their action has nothing to do with a murderer being lethally injected.

Posted by: justice seeker | Apr 2, 2008 9:41:33 AM

Will of “what” people? The will of uneducated people that repeat slogans and press releases but lack the basic decency to go to law school? The will of the framers of the constitution?

I mean, come on, any position can be justified by saying that it is it “will” of the people, because you can never prove that the “people” have any discernable “will.”

But, if “the people” want to amend the constitution to allow for cruel punishments that are widely applied, they can. However, “the people” have expressed no interest in such an amendment. “The people” were far more interested in preventing gay marriage or flag burning. However, “the people” stopped being interested in those thing after the last election, and now “the people” care about stupid crap like gas prices.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 2, 2008 10:45:51 AM

In Chaney v. Heckler, 718 F.2d 1174, 1177 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1983), then Judge Scalia dissented and dismissed the claim that lethal injection was inhumane by arguing that, inter alia, lethal injection is “the most ‘humane’ way of putting hopelessly crippled or diseased animals out of their misery.”

Posted by: Colin Miller | Apr 2, 2008 3:15:59 PM

"Justice seeker" wrote:

What a completely ridiculous statement!
Do you honestly think that the majority of citizens ( and the majority of Americans DO approve the death penalty!) are "uneducated"? Is one considered "decent" just because one goes to law school? What about those of us who went to medical school instead? Are we INdecent?

The U.S. ranks 14th among earth's nations in overall education level, so, no, it isn't ignorant people who have decided to have capital punishment. Interestingly, the Asian nations from whence come so many technological innovations, rank below the U.S., as do countries in the former Soviet Union, the MIddle-East nations, Canada, all of Africa, & all of Central, & South America.

As to the framers of the Constitution, I believe their preferred method for dealing with murderers was hanging. There were the occasional firing squads.


In America, the will of the people is determined by their voting, by polls, by people calling/writing their elected officials, etc. We do still operate under "majority rules" last I looked. I think the will of the majority is a logical & a very good way to run this show. 37 states agree that the death penalty should be handed down in certain crimes. There again, the majority.


The 5th Amendment to the Constitution does allow for capital punishment for capital offenses but ONLY after due process.

" 'No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger;...' "

Surely all those awaiting the death penalty have been afforded such due process!
Again, when the 5th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, hanging was the most widely used form of capital punishment. Surely the "founders" saw that as acceptable & as justifiable back then, not "cruel & unusual".

What you obviously see as a cruel punishment is not, at the furthest stretch, as cruel as the ways most murderers kill their victims. As a physician I have attended more than one victim of a violent crime. What I found was definitely inhumane!
I have always been astonished that it is these very murderers who scream loudest for mercy & for humane treatment after their heinous acts land them behind bars! Unfortunately for their victims, they did not consider either mercy or humane treatment before they killed them. Murder is murder...not an accident!

That your view of the majority of American citizens is that they are uneducated, & uninterested in major issues suggests that (a) perhaps you are out of touch with reality & fact, and/or (b) perhaps you are living in the wrong country. Perhaps you'd be happier in a country that affords murderers more "humane" treatment, or where the majority there agree with your views (which are, in the U.S., the opinions held by the MINORITY)?

Being a retired physician, & medically speaking, it might seem that of all forms of capital punishment, the guillotine, which France employed until capital punishment was banned in 1981, is perhaps the "most humane". Death is swift, sure, & physically causes the least pain. The condemned do not linger, seizure, or experience prolonged discomfort. There is also less chance of failure, error, or doubt of outcome.

Posted by: Dr, Retired | Apr 20, 2008 1:11:40 PM

My error!
I attributed the quotes in my previous post to "Justice Seeker" when they should have applied to "S.cotus". Apologies.

Posted by: Dr, Retired | Apr 20, 2008 1:16:06 PM

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