Sunday, February 11, 2007

The 'Humane Execution' Paradox

Just as Florida is re-studying the lethal injection issue so also are other states. In today's Sunday Times Magazine, Elizabeth Weil has deeply unsettling account of the stumble-bum incompetence, maladministration, and flat-out ignorance of those who do our dirty work in carrying out capital executions around the nation.

Dyslexic doctors who muddle up the proper amounts of chemicals ... physicians guilty of chronic malpractice who hopelessly botch the execution of convicts, too ... clueless prison wardens improperly mixing various lethal chemicals together into "a thick, white sludge" that leaves the condemned alive and in agony for hours... and on and on.

As the very man who wrote the protocol on how lethal injection could be employed as a method of execution says, "It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs.”

The root problem, of course, is this inescapable paradox : as a society we aspire to humane treatment of even the least of us but there is no humane way to carry out the mandated execution of a human being.

As Ms. Weil writes:
In his 1975 treatise “Discipline and Punish,” the philosopher Michel Foucault observed that in the West, the locus of punishment has shifted away from the body to the soul, and because execution requires an act of violence, it is a task we are almost ashamed to perform.

“Foucault was not a fan of the death penalty, but he was right,” [Law professor Robert] Blecker told me, “the twitching, the moaning, we can’t even tolerate that.” Executions, to be ethical, must be transparent. Blecker maintains: “My view it that executions should be public, that we should take responsibility for what we do. If we can’t face it, we should abolish it.”

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