Thursday, April 17, 2008
Answering Violence With Violence: America's Vengeance Culture
Since 1977, the year that the Supreme Court allowed them to resume, 1,099 executions have been carried out in the United States, 405 in the state of Texas alone. The standard method of execution involves strapping the condemned onto a table (shown above), injecting him with an anesthetic called sodium enathol to make him unconscious, whereupon he receives doses of pancuronium bromide, which stops muscle functionsm and finally potassium chloride, which stops the heart from beating. Ironically, sodium chloride is also used in performing abortions.
Last year, the United States ranked alongside humanitarian hearthrobs China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia as the largest users of the death penalty, and together, the five countries carried out 90% of the world's executions. However, the death penalty has been put on hold the last seven months as the U.S. Supreme Court pondered the case of Baze v. Reese, a challenge filed by two Kentucky death-row inmates, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling.
Donald B. Verrilli, an attorney who represented Baze and Bowling pro Bono in the matter, held that the lethal injection method used by the State of Kentucky violates the 8th amendment of the U.S. Constitution which outlaws "cruel and unusual punishment."
In oral arguments held before the Supreme Court in January, Verrilli observed that in the State of Kentucky, "it's unlawful to euthanize animals in the way that it carries out its executions [on humans]," due to the pain which can be incurred. Death row employees who administer the drugs used in the lethal injection rarely recieve medical training, as was evidenced by a fouled-up execution last year in Georgia in which anathesia and potassium chloride were improperly administered, leading an inmated to spend 30 minutes in a state of paralyzed consciousness before finally succumbing to the drug's effects.
The effect seemed lost on Justice Antonin Scalia who declared, "Where does this come from, that . . . in the execution of a person who has been convicted of killing people we must choose the least painful method possible?"
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Wednesday against Mr. Verrilli's clients.
Two hours later, the rush began, as numerous, mostly southern states moved to end the moratoriums on executions which they had put in place when the Supreme Court took up the challenge to lethal injections last September.
Perhaps the most disturbing remarks came from Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who praised the Supreme Court ruling allowing lethal injections to continue declaring that "Justice delayed is justice denied, and an awful lot of families of the victims have been waiting for justice to be done, and so that's certainly an important factor."
How anyone can defend a process in which lethal drugs are injected into someone is beyond me. Justice is defined in the dictionary as "the administering of deserved punishment or reward." Humans are imperfect creatures and for public officials to condemn their fellow man in such a way is a most un-Christian thing to do and veers more towards vengeance, a retaliatory measure, rather than a just, proportional punishment, for the continuation of a harmonious order, something which death destroys.
To administer death in response to death, especially considering that criminals today hardly present the same danger to society that they did in ages past, when prisons were far more beyond reach for isolated communities and far easier to break out of.
The Catholic Church has spoken out against the death penalty in most cases as the late Pope John Paul II said that it was "unnecessary" consdering that "Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."
Confining convicted murderers to life in prison without parole is a much better way of responding to violence than by death penalty, which only works to increase to cycle of violence by allowing criminals an easy escape that would not be provided to them by life in jail and hard labor, which would exact a much more physically and mentally demanding toll.
Lethal injection, the most commonly used method of execution takes less than five minutes to complete. Such a swift sentence is hardly a thorough response to violent crime, and is berift of the harmony of proportionality inherent in a just sentence given out for wrongdoing.
Consider this analogy. If Johnny insults Billy, which response would be more just? Should Johnny...
A. Be insulted back?
B. Should he be shown how his actions were wrong and told apologize to make up for his misdeed?
Of course this is just an example, but fast-forward the situation by ten years. Imagine that Johny and Billy get into a fight and Johnny kills Billy. What should be done? Should Johnny...
A. Be killed in response? (executed)
B. Should he be sentenced to life in prison and hard labor?
Choice "A," naturally would involve countless litigation and would culminate in Johnny's "punishment," a brief three minute execution with Johnny being strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal drugs. There would be no opportunity for Johnny to reflect on his crime, and thus no opportunity for him to realize his mistake and express remorse. Billy's family, would, of course, feel vindicated after Johnny's execution and tell the media that Johnny "got his due."
Choice "B," would involved anywhere from 30-60 years in jail for Johnny and countless long days being spent on a chain gang somewhere in a desolate part of the country. Johnny would be given great opportunity to reflect on his crime and would have the benefit of access to a priest or minister at his prison, whatever his religion may be.
Type "prison religious conversion" into Google. You will be surprised what you find.