Thursday, April 27, 2006

Questioning Lethal Injection

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case challenging not the death penalty itself, but the manner in which it is carried out. In lethal injection, used in 37 of the 38 death-penalty states, the condemned prisoner is strapped to a gurney and then given a series of drugs. The first drug is intended to cause unconsciousness, the second paralyzes him, and the third stops the heart, causing death. The essence of the challenge is that there is some belief that the first drug may wear off before the third drug completes the execution process. In other words, the prisoner may be conscious, awake, aware, and able to feel pain as the final drug stops his heart.

The difficulty, of course, is in figuring out a "humane" way to kill someone. The death penalty is, by its very nature, inhumane; that is precisely the point, in fact. It is reaching back into the deepest barbarism of our history to satisfy the desire of our reptilian brains for bloody revenge. Perhaps we should implement execution by means of paper cuts and lemon juice, to make it as slow and painful as possible.

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