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January 27, 2015

"The Humane Death Penalty Charade"

The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times editorial.  Here are excerpts:

When the United States at last abandons the abhorrent practice of capital punishment, the early years of the 21st century will stand out as a peculiar period during which otherwise reasonable people hotly debated how to kill other people while inflicting the least amount of constitutionally acceptable pain.

The Supreme Court stepped back into this maelstrom on Friday, when it agreed to hear Warner v. Gross, a lawsuit brought by four Oklahoma deathrow inmates alleging that the state’s lethal­injection drug protocol puts them at risk of significant pain and suffering.

In accepting the case, the justices had to change its name.  The lead plaintiff, Charles Warner, was executed on Jan. 15 after the court, by a vote of 5-­to-­4, denied him a last­minute stay.  That may sound strange until you consider that while it takes only four justices to accept a case for argument, it takes five to stay an execution.  The case is now named for another inmate, Richard Glossip. (On Monday, the Oklahoma attorney general requested temporary stays of the impending executions of Mr. Glossip and the other two plaintiffs.)...

The justices have been here before.  They upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection in 2008.  But, since then, the battles over the practice have grown more warped.  Many drug makers now refuse to supply their products for killing, leaving states to experiment on their inmates with other drugs, often acquired under cover of official secrecy and administered by authorities with no medical training.  During a hearing last month on Oklahoma’s protocol, a state witness who testified that midazolam is effective appeared to rely on the website drugs.com, not scientific studies.  It would all be a laughable farce if it didn’t involve killing people.

There is disingenuousness on both sides.  Many who oppose the death penalty, this page included, are obviously not interested in identifying more “humane” methods of execution; the idea itself is a contradiction in terms.  Nor are many capital punishment supporters concerned with how much suffering a condemned person might endure in his final moments.  In the middle sit the armchair executioners who engage in macabre debates about the relative efficiency of, say, nitrogen gas.

It is time to dispense with the pretense of a pain­free death.  The act of killing itself is irredeemably brutal and violent. If the men on death row had painlessly killed their victims, that would not make their crimes any more tolerable.  When the killing is carried out by a state against its own citizens, it is beneath a people that aspire to call themselves civilized.

I love the phrase "armchair executioners," even though I could not help reacting with a classic "Taxi Driver" response.

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January 27, 2015 at 08:37 AM | Permalink

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Many who oppose the death penalty, this page included, are obviously not interested in identifying more “humane” methods of execution; the idea itself is a contradiction in terms.

I find this ridiculous at some point. Are they saying that in the days of drawing and quartering or something that those who in the long run want to end executions would not in the short term support more humane ("more" not "humane" by its lonesome) methods?

The perfect need not be the enemy of the good here. IF there is going to be a death penalty, there is grounds to make it as w/o problems as possible. Many on both sides accept that it always will have some sort of problems. But, it is not all/nothing either.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 27, 2015 9:22:19 AM

I hope the Supreme Court ends capital punishment.

1) Appellate lawyers wasting $billions a year on stupid arguments would be fired in one day.

2) an informal death penalty would take its place, where inmates with LWOP are used by prison officials and organized crime leaders to dispatch others that are annoying or beyond the pale. They would use a shiv to stab the victim 50 times, so they may suffer a lot more, thanks to the lawyer dumbasses. Or they would have their heads bashed with a heavy object. These inmates with LWOP would then suffer, the ultimate penalty for their repeated murders, loss of cafeteria privileges. Serves them right.

3) We would do as the Europeans did. The entire Baader Meinhof gang committed "suicide" within hours of each other by hanging, not executions, but "suicides."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 27, 2015 10:18:58 AM

If you are going to be a bear then be a grizzly. Shoot them on the courthouse steps in the county where convicted and make the Governor (who has clemency power) be the firing person. No "squad".

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 28, 2015 12:24:24 PM

There is some sense in this argument. One quibble: at least according to current Supreme Court doctrine, it actually might have made a substantial difference if the inmates on death row had killed their victims painlessly, as a good number of them are sentenced to death rather than life without parole because a jury or judge determined that the manner of their killing was particularly "heinous," "atrocious," "cruel," "depraved," or torturous.

Posted by: anon | Jan 28, 2015 2:35:45 PM

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