Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Regarding the Death Penalty: An Open Letter to the US Government

I've said it before: the death penalty is bad.

There are people who really shouldn't be walking the earth with good, law-abiding citizens.  Those bad people cannot be trusted to respects the rights of others: they kill, they terrorize, they place their own wants - not needs, wants - above the needs of others.  This last sounds trite but I'm talking about killers.  Invariably, killers.

And possibly rapists.  It's hard to get around rape, too.

And while I don't think people like that should be permitted to live around other, non-criminal people, I don't think it should be up to the law-abiding citizens to kill them.  I'm not as concerned about the criminal as I am about the person who is supposed to carry out the death penalty upon that criminal.

When a condemned man is put to death, the medical examiner of the governing body where the execution took place lists the cause of death as "homicide."  Which is to say, some other person killed this one.  Through careful phrasing, those other people are absolved of the title that usually goes with committing homicide: murderer.

Clayton Lockett of MacAlester, Oklahoma was on the slab last night with a tube in his arm when something went wrong.  Lockett was being executed for a terrible murder in 1999.  I won't argue with the decision to rid the world of him, he was a terrible person.  The sedative flowing into him failed, but the paralytic and respiratory suppressant drugs he was receiving continued.  Those last two are known to be agonizing without adequate sedation.

Lockett died anyway of a heart attack, after about a half-hour.  A properly performed lethal injection execution gets the job done in just a few minutes.  The victim falls asleep and dies.  This was not as simple as that.

When officials noticed things going wrong - Lockett struggling to rise from the table, regaining consciousness and mumbling - they pulled a curtain to block witnesses from seeing.  That's a bit ironic, that it's okay to watch the man die but not to watch him suffer.  It's obvious why it's not okay, of course.  Seeing other people suffer hurts the watcher, too - usually.  Certain pathologies react differently.

So, suddenly, it was NOT okay to watch the man die.  And now, in the wake of what has happened, another execution scheduled for the same night has been put on hold.  It would be unacceptable to kill a man in the wrong way, evidently.  As technology and American culture has progressed, we have sought more and more humane ways to put people to death, to end their lives as gently as possible.  We don't want to hurt the condemned, just get rid of them without causing them pain.

If we are a nation that holds life so dear, to spend billions of dollars on health care, to command assorted manufacturers to make their products safer for users, to acquiesce to other manufacturers that demand we not use their products to put condemned prisoners to death, then why do we kill condemned prisoners at all?  In this one small pocket of cognitive dissonance we are bloodthirsty and unforgiving.

As he laying gasping, one wonders what the instincts are.  Mr. Lockett was condemned to die, but now with the procedure going awry, were the attending medical personnel inclined to save him?  The execution was supposed to happen in a certain way, a way that wouldn't unnecessary hurt him - his terrible crime was dreadful and all the fires of Hell may not be punishment enough, but that isn't for us to decide, so we're supposed to be as gentle as possible even as we hasten the heart's final beat.  But he suffered, absolutely.  He isn't even the first.

I submit to the entire United States government that our penchant for killing our own nation's criminals, however bad their crimes, makes us all party to systemic murder, adherents to a policy of death-dealing.  The associated costs of keeping a condemned man in prison until his execution are already well known, much, much higher than for a non-condemned man.  Looking at the situation from a coldly economic standpoint, on that basis alone killing condemned prisoners is unsupportable.

And worse yet, innocent men get executed too.  Even one is too many.  The only way to be absolutely certain that the United States, and by extension, all Americans, is innocent of unnecessarily killing an innocent person is to never kill another prisoner again.  Stop now and forever. 

These deaths that are carried out, ostensibly in my name as well as the name of every other upstanding citizen, weigh upon me.  They bear down with a load that I do not want.  Don't kill for me.

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