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The death penalty is made all the more barbaric by botched executions

Apr 30, 2014 The death penalty is made all the more barbaric by botched executions

No form of execution guarantees the absence of an excruciatingly painful death. Lethal injection cannot sanitize the often extreme pain of executions, and can be slowly and excruciatingly painful, and certainly does not always automatically make the condemned unconscious. Because lethal injection includes a paralytic formula, the condemned can experience excruciating pain without even being able to express the pain physically or vocally.

The electric chair can send flames shooting out the condemned person’s head, and I understand that it is not unusual for the condemned person to defecate from the ordeal. The gas chamber can bring death far from instantaneously, with choking gasps for air. Firing squads are not always an instant killer. Hanging can decapitate. The guillotine certainly was extremely painful, even if usually quick.

For the gruesome details of botched executions in the United States in the last thirty years, see Professor Michael Radelet’s updated article here.

Now added to the pantheon of botched executions is yesterday’s failed effort to lethally inject Clayton D. Lockett in Oklahoma, after he ultimately failed on appeal to challenge the Constitutionality (I assume including arguments of a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ due process guarantees) of the planned lethal injection formula, that had to be updated after European manufacturers stopped exporting to the United States a key ingredient for the previously usual lethal injection cocktail (and i am not talking martini cocktails), in order not to aid executions.

As the New York Times reports, Mr. Lockett

"began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.

"The administering doctor intervened and discovered that ‘the line had blown,’ said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into Mr. Lockett’s vein.

"At 7:06 p.m., Mr. Patton said, Mr. Lockett died in the execution chamber, of a heart attack."

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty paints an even more gruesome picture: "Witnesses say that [Lockett] called out ‘man’ and ‘something’s wrong,’ and writhed and twitched in agony twenty minutes after the procedure began."

Some or many death penalty advocates might reply to Mr. Lockett’s botched execution by asserting that murder victims do not usually die painlessly either. Mr. Luckett was convicted of shooting a nineteen-year-old woman in 1999 and burying her alive. Charles F. Warner, whose Oklahoma execution (originally set for two hours after Mr. Lockett’s execution) has been delayed due to Mr. Lockett’s botched execution, was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old baby girl. Even the most ardent capital punishment opponent would be horrified at such barbarity in both murders. We must nevertheless ask whether the federal and state governments are going to stoop to murderers’ levels of barbarity to express that murder is wrong. Doing so pulls the federal and state governments into deeper barbarity than already exists with even the most painless of executions. The death penalty is the ultimate form of state-sponsored torture.

On a related note, a reason that I oppose most warfare is that killing in warfare also usually brings excruciatingly painful  — and often arbitrary — death, and survivors also experience excruciating pain and torture.  

Abolish the death penalty now. 

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