Friday, July 25, 2014

'Botched' executions

Another "botched" execution, and more cries to make execution illegal or at least more "humane." But making executions more "humane" is what brought us to this situation in the first place.

Executions are as old as civil government. Prosecutions have generally offered an ultimate punishment for the most heinous of crimes. From medieval tortures leading to deaths to the more humane reforms such as the guillotine, firing squads, hangings, electrocutions or the gas chamber, society has sought a way of making execution more palatable. Execution by the guillotine or by hanging was often accompanied by large crowds at mid-day in the town square. It was a public spectacle, and these methods were far less painful for the condemned criminals than earlier methods, which involved such torturous means as drawing and quartering (in which the condemned is literally torn apart, limb from limb until their quartered portions bleed out).

America's newest and supposedly most humane execution method, lethal injection, is not working out as well as planned. Several "botched" executions have led to outcries and calls for eliminating the death penalty. But these problems lead to the question: "What is really more humane?" Hanging, which snaps the condemned's spinal cord, should be minimally painful if pain can be felt at all. Electrocution likely includes severe but very brief pain before the electrical charge destroys the brain. Poison gas apparently is no more painful than lethal injection.

So what is the best way to carry out executions, if executions are to be carried out at all? It may be that earlier, less advanced methods of execution are actually less painful to the condemned person and might be reconsidered in the light of criticism of lethal injection.

As some relatives of murder victims have pointed out, no execution method compares to the tortured, grotesque, frightened final moments of their loved ones' lives. So is our concern for humane treatment of condemned killers misplaced?

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