Friday, January 24, 2014

We Execute—but First we Torture a Bit

The Dennis McGuire execution in Ohio has been all over the news lately and quite properly so. Now I am on record as opposing the Death Penalty for a number of reasons, but I’ve set them aside in this case and make the argument without bias.
CBS News, 1-21-14: Prison officials gave McGuire intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put him to death. The method was adopted after supplies of a previously used drug dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment.

Guardian-UK 1-20-14: The anaesthesiologist who told a court that a new two-drug protocol used in an execution in Ohio would cause the inmate “agony and horror”, has expressed anger the state pressed ahead with the experiment despite his warnings.

David Waisel, associate professor of anaesthesia at Harvard medical school, who acted as expert witness for Dennis McGuire's defence attorneys, said he was angry when he learned Ohio had gone ahead with the execution last Thursday using a previously untested combination of midazolam and hydromorphone.

Eyewitness accounts from inside the death chamber suggest his predictions turned out to be accurate.

The outcry among the public was strong and now the Ohio State Senate (who reinstated the Ohio Death Penalty and passed it into law) are falling all over themselves to either rescind the law or require the Governor to be present during all executions. Politicians are indeed political, what a surprise. When not grifting for re-election funds, they tend to jump on bandwagons. But that’s not the issue.

The issue is in fact that, if we are to continue to hold our position as the only ‘advanced’ Western nation to execute, we ought to be able to do it with the same comfortable means we provide when we euthanize our house pets. I mean, why not?

Heading up the ‘why not’ side of the argument was an un-named Ohio official who, confronting David Waisel’s (associate professor of anaesthesia at Harvard medical school) similar testimony in a pre-execution hearing before the US district court for the southern district of Ohio, said: “You're not entitled to a pain-free execution.” Entitled? Not entitled? Now there’s a man who shouldn’t be allowed near a vet’s office, much less the Ohio Prison System. The Constitution does protect citizens from cruel and unusual punishment, but apparently ‘gasping for breath for at least 10 minutes, snorting loudly, clenching his (McGuire’s) fists and trying to sit up from the gurney’ is neither cruel nor unusual in his opinion.

Now McGuire is not a nice guy, imprisoned and given the Death Penalty for raping and murdering a 22 year-old woman whose unborn child also died. No one in their right mind would want him returned to society and Ohio (among 34 other states) has seen fit to continue to execute. Many of them share the (until now) untested combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. 

Time was, we hanged or shot people publicly—either of which were quicker and less tortuous than the current death cocktails we inject into those enduring capital punishment. But public executions became unfashionable. It seems the public, but for a few sadists, just become squeamish watching someone die by command. So we got creative, adding the gas chamber, dusting off the electric chair and torturing ourselves and our victims with lethal injection. 

The Supreme Court briefly suspended the Death Penalty between 1972 and 1976, finding it both ‘cruel and unusual,’ but they quickly got religion in 1976 and reinstated it at the discretion of state law.

Wikipedia: From 1976 to January 16, 2014, there were 1,362 executions, of which 1,187 were by lethal injection, 158 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging, and 3 by firing squad.

508 of those executions were held in Texas, 152 under George Bush and 235 in the eleven years of Rick Perry’s governorship. Those Texans are tough.

But enough chit-chat over numbers and constitutionality. We have it in 34 states and as long as we have it, we ought to carry it out in as humane a way as possible. There are better ways.

Even your vet would agree on that.