OPINION: Lethal injection no more ethical than firing squad

Published: Jul 25, 2014 12:45pm EDT
By Lance Rinker, Managing Editor for Konsume Politics

Please Note: This article was updated Jul 25, 2014 @ 01:26pm EDT


Arizona is the most recent state to muscle their way through an execution using experimental drugs as the deliverer of ‘justice’. Joseph Wood III was convicted of double-murder in 1989 and sentenced to death. That day came on July 23 but not exactly in the manner in which those who support capital punishment would feel comfortable with.

The execution of Wood took over two hours, with witnesses reporting that Wood gasped and snorted over 650 times during the procedure. He was executed using midazolam and hyrdromorphone, the same drug cocktail used in January’s botched execution of Dennis McGuire.

Attorneys for Wood tried to file an emergency request to halt the execution because Wood was still awake an hour into the procedure. Dale Baich, one of Wood's attorneys, lamented at how long the procedure took and how a stay of execution was not granted.

“I’ve witnessed a number of executions before and I’ve never seen anything like this. Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long,” he said.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered a review of the execution, saying she was “concerned by the length of time” that it took. The director of the Department of Corrections said they will conduct a full review and are waiting on results of a toxicology study and autopsy. 

There have been nine botched executions in the United States since 2006, with three of those occurring this year. States have already carried out 26 executions this year, and Texas and Florida lead the pack with seven apiece. There have been nearly 1,400 people executed in the United States by way of hanging, electrocution, lethal gas and firing squads since capital punishment was allowed, again, in 1976. However, nearly 90 percent of executions since then are done by lethal injection. It takes an average of 18 years for death row inmates to actually have their sentence carried out and be put to death.

*Information provided by deathpenaltyinfo.org

To be clear, my own stance on capital punishment pretty much echoes what U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in a dissent in the Arizona death penalty case of Wood.

"But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we,” he said. “If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf."

Capital punishment is most certainly a horrendous brutality carried out by the state on behalf of society. To pretend that it’s some kindness we are performing is misguided. To pretend death row inmates receiving their supposed-lethal dose of drugs to send them on their way is the polite way to murder them is disingenuous.

"If we as a society cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by a firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all,” Kozinski said.

Death by firing squad has never failed in the history of the United States. But because it is considered barbaric by some in political office, and of course their constituents the United States has made lethal injection the default method for execution.

However, there have been a growing number of drug companies within the United States and around the world that now refuse to make or sell any drug that may be used for execution to correctional facilities. As a result, a severe shortage of the basic drugs necessary to carry out lethal injections has now forced states to use experimental drug cocktails that have made murder on behalf of society even more cruel and unusual than it was previously.

Provided that lethal injection drugs have became more costly as they have become more difficult to obtain, in addition to the horrific results they have recently produced, a firing squad option makes the most sense. Death can never be humane, even if that death or murder is justified by the majority, but a firing squad is no more unethical than lethal injection. It is also cheaper and has a fail rate of zero.


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