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December 16, 2006

Should Executions Be Painless?

That is the issue that this country struggles with in the wake of the decision by Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend executions in his state and a federal judge's order that California revamp its execution protocol.

Executions by lethal injection were suspended in Florida and ordered revamped in California on Friday, as the chemical method once billed as a more humane way of killing the condemned came under mounting scrutiny over the pain it may cause.

Gov. Jeb Bush (R) ordered the suspension in Florida after a botched execution in which it took 34 minutes and a second injection to kill convicted murderer Angel Nieves Diaz. A state medical examiner said that needles used to carry the poison had passed through the prisoner's veins and delivered the three-chemical mix into the tissues of his arm.

In California, a federal judge ruled that the state must overhaul its lethal-injection procedures, calling its current protocol unconstitutional because it may inflict unacceptable levels of pain.

Judge Jeremy D. Fogel of the U.S. District Court for Northern California ordered the state to revise its procedures and consider eliminating the use of two drugs: pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

The judge did not order executions halted, though they have been effectively on hold since February while he conducted a review.

The "pervasive lack of professionalism" in the executions, Fogel wrote, "at the least is very disturbing."

Forgive me, but since when did it become a moral, much less constitutional, requirement that executions be painless, bloodless procedures that spare teh convicted killer pain? Yes, I know we do not permit "cruel and unusual" punishment, but is it really cruel that a condemned man might be conscious of his punishment being carried out? Does it really shock the conscience that the guilty might feel some level of fear and pain, just like his victims did as he snuffed out their innocent lives? No, it does not.

But this illustrates the fundamental problem with the jurisprudence in this area. We have allowed judges to set themselves up as philosopher kings, deciding on the basis of some undefined standard what constitutes "cruel and unusual". We have judges who are intent upon ensuring that the condemned not experience on bit of suffering as their lives ebb away in payment for their crimes. The ultimate end is likely to be a ban on lethal injection -- currently considered to be a "humane" method of execution, on the grounds that any suffering on the part of the condemned constitutes cruelty which shocks the conscience.

However, I would argue that your average American holds a very different position on the issue. We recognize that capital punishment is, in the end, punishment. And while we do not want ancient spectacles like those in the Colosseum, burning at the stake, or crucifixion, we are not troubled that a killer might feel some discomfort as he experiences his much-deserved demise. I'd bet that your average American would have no problem with seeing the return of firing squads or the hangman's noose as the standard form of execution. Indeed, only the horrors of the Holocaust render the gas chamber unacceptable to me, the method of execution indelibly linked to the Hitlerian genocide and therefore morally unacceptable.

So I'll say it plainly -- rather than a lethal injection of three drugs, let's go back to the lethal injection of lead by a team of marksmen.





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NAME: Greg
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