Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Executions are brutal

    On Tuesday night, July 22, in Arizona, witnesses watched in horror as Joseph R. Woods III took labored breaths for nearly two hours. This lasted so long that Woods’ attorneys actually had the time to file papers with two courts in an attempt to stop the execution. One reporter likened the experience to watching a fish flopping on a riverbank. “At one point, you wondered if he was ever going to die.”
    Arizona’s execution nightmare is just the latest in a series of incidents in which prisoners have not just quietly drifted into death but have died in protracted struggles to breathe. Although it is not always clear how conscious the prisoners were, in at least two cases the men spoke after the injections began.
    Lethal injections are now the standard method of execution in the U.S. because, the thinking goes, it is a painless and peaceful way for the state to kill. It seemed the optimal choice for a society bent on retaining the death penalty but unwilling to admit that state-sanctioned killing is a holdover from more barbaric times and societies.
    Drugs previously used for this type of execution are no longer available. Drug makers have refused to allow their use in executions. The last company to make the drugs ceased to do so even for export because it could not be certain the drugs would not be procured by U.S. prisons on the black market, an option that has been used.
    There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime. It is administered inconsistently and even erroneously. Keeping prisoners jailed for their entire lives is cheaper. All that and the fact that the United States keeps company in this issue with the likes of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran and China but no other country in the Americas has not lead to an end to the death penalty in 32 states.
    Americans have been looking for a bloodless solution for executions for over a century. Gas chambers and electric chairs were attempts to avoid the uncertainty and spectacle of hangings. The guillotine, invented to ensure the final blow was quick and certain, is probably the most merciful way to execute. What it is not is bloodless.
    Executions by definition are brutal and violent. The choice is simple. Either the death penalty is carried out with the brutal, bloody, but effective methods that guarantee sudden death or we finally recognize that government-sanctioned killing is an act unworthy of a modern Judeo-Christian society.

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