Another U.S. execution botched

Here we get conflicting statements from the state of Arizona vs. the executed man’s lawyer and a witness who reported in the Guardian. Joseph Wood III, convicted of executing his estranged girlfriend and her father, was put to death yesterday in Arizona by lethal injection. The procedure normally takes ten minutes. This one took nearly two hours. As the New York Times reports:

In another unexpectedly prolonged execution using disputed lethal injection drugs, a condemned Arizona prisoner on Wednesday repeatedly gasped for one hour and 40 minutes, according to witnesses, before dying at an Arizona state prison.

. . . But what would normally be a 10- to 15-minute procedure dragged on for nearly two hours, as Mr. Wood appeared repeatedly to gasp, according to witnesses including reporters and one of his federal defenders, Dale Baich.

Mauricio Marin, who witnessed it, reported in The Guardian:

The curtains opened. The medical staff checked the man’s veins. He said his last words – “God forgive you all” – and the lethal drugs began to flow, at 1.52pm. James Wood appeared to fall asleep, albeit strapped down to a table, and he looked straight ahead at the wall. The first 10 minutes went according to plan.

Then, a hard gulp. I looked over to my left: the priest praying the rosary. To my right: the family watching on. Then dead ahead: the side of Wood’s stomach appeared to move, even after the Arizona state prison’s medical staff had announced he was sedated.

I saw a man who was supposed to be dead, coughing – or choking, possibly even gasping for air. I knew this because Wood’s stomach moved at the same time, just like it would if you were lying down and trying to breath. Then another of those gulps – those gasps for air, movements just from the throat area and sometimes from the stomach, too.

I started looking at the priest’s watch to keep track of time. Five, 10, 20 minutes … an hour had passed. I started to wonder: Will this get called off? Will this ever stop?

I continued to scribble on my state-issued notepad, counting the gulps and gasps of the man on the gurney. I counted 660. This went on for over an hour and a half.

During that time, medical staff checked Wood six times in total, looking at his eyes, feeling for a pulse on his neck, informing us over the loud speaker that he was still sedated. His eyes were still closed.

My eyes turned to Wood’s attorney, Dale Baich, as he handed a lady a note and she left the witness chamber. I wondered what the lawyer had written, and as the door opened, it let in a bright light, for just a quick moment.

What seemed like an eternity passed – 20, 30, 45 minutes more, looking straight ahead – and finally the gulps and gasps started to slow, from about every five seconds or so, to about one per minute. Finally, the gulps and gasps stopped. A few minutes more went by. At last, the killing had stopped, too. A medical staff member checked Wood again one last time. Another few minutes still, and the warden pronounced the killer dead, at 3.49pm, one hour and 57 minutes after the execution had began.

In a move that I think is unprecedented, Wood’s lawyers asked for a stay of execution to both the federal district court and Judge Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme court an hour into the execution, as Wood was still alive. Both courts refused.  (On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court also overturned a stay of execution ordered by a lower court, demanding details about the source of the lethal drugs and the training of those who administered them.)

What were the drugs? The Times notes:

Arizona officials said they were using the same sedative that was used in Oklahoma, midazolam, together with a different second drug, hydromorphone, a combination that has been used previously in Ohio. Similar problems were reported in the execution in Ohio in January of Dennis McGuire, using the same two drugs. He reportedly gasped as the procedure took longer than expected.

There are reliable ways to execute someone by injection. That involves using the same drugs that people take when they end their own lives legally, as they do in Switzerland. The drugs are barbiturates, and are guaranteed to cause sleep and then a painless death. But these aren’t used in the U.S. for executions, for their manufacturers won’t sell them for purposes of execution. This means that a variety of other drugs, produced by dubious “compounding pharmacies” whose names the executioners won’t disclose, are used—with variable and often horrible results. Moreover, persons trained to administer drugs, like physicians, are forbidden from participating in executions.

Naturally, the state of Arizona maintains that Wood didn’t suffer. They said he was snoring, that he was asleep. But how do they know what he actually felt? There is no way to know what a man who is gasping but appears unconscious is actually experiencing. I doubt he was simply “snoring” as he was dying.

And of course Wood’s botched execution was minimalized by both the Governor of Arizona and the victims’ relatives:

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, ‘Let’s worry about the drugs,’ ” Richard Brown, brother-in-law of Debra Dietz, told The A.P. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet? Why didn’t we give him Drano?”

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said that she was concerned about the length of time the execution took.

“While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process,” she said. “One thing is certain, however: Inmate Wood died in a lawful manner, and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims — and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

Drano? That is a caustic drain-cleaning chemical in the U.S. that people occasionally swallow to kill themselves, producing a horrible death. The point, though, is not to contrast the relative ease of the criminal’s death with that of his victims. The point is that when we take away from someone the only thing he has left—his earthly existence—we should not act as a country the way a criminal acts toward his victims. Do we want them to suffer. Of course there is plenty of mental suffering involved in knowing exactly when you’ll die, but what kind of people demand physical suffering as well? We should be better than vicious criminals!

Physicians will not participate in these executions, companies will not sell states the drugs we need for painless executions, and executions cost more than life in prison without parole. Further, capital punishment puts our country into the killing business. We are the only First World country to retain the death penalty (see below), and we can’t even carry it out properly. Isn’t it time to bring this charade to an end?

Here, from Wikipedia, are the countries that have abolished the death penalty (dark green; 97 nations) versus those that retain it in some form. Only the red ones (58 nations) have actually used it in the last ten years. Light green countries (8 nations) have it only for special circumstances like war crimes; tan countries (35 nations) retain capital punishment but haven’t used it in at least a decade:

Capital_punishment Screen shot 2014-07-24 at 6.36.51 AM

98 Comments

  1. Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    We have something in common with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Bangladesh and China that no other nation does: the death penalty.

    • nickswearsky
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Japan also has the death penalty, as does Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia. Every one of those states is a democracy.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget Belerus, which seems an odd outlier amongst the surrounding countries.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        I mean Belarus – sorry Belarusians for the misspelling & the death penalty.

    • exsumper
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget no medical care for the poor! Although you’ve only got that in common with North Korea,and countries that are real basket cases!

    • Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      I’ve only listed countries that regularly execute prisoners.

      Some countries have capital punishment laws still in effect that are held in abeyance because the European Union prohibits executions.

      Japan has executed 39 prisoners since 1993. It is my understanding that 39 prisoners were executed in the U.S. in 2013 alone.

      • nickswearsky
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Of the 39 executed in Japan, 9 were executed in 2013. Japan has over 150 on death row. They show no indication of abandoning death penalty. Why give nations a pass just because they don’t execute people as often? Japan also has a homicide rate that is a tiny fraction of that in the U.S.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    If the government is to execute someone, the guillotine may be the quickest and most painless way in conjunction with a sedative.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Hypothetically, have them swim two lengths of an olympic distance pool without breathing. They will peacefully drift away as oxygen diminishes in their brain and heart. Very peaceful. (And no government should execute people under any circumstance.)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        Err, you’ve never tried drowning, have you? “Peaceful” is not one of my memories for the couple of times I’ve had that “this time I’m really going to die” feeling. (And that’s before the training courses at work that make many people’s toes curl as the water runs up their noses.)

        • Kevin
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          I have, in a manner. Elite athletes can very easily accomplish this. See here Bob Bowman (Michael Phelps coach) talks about (sadly):

          http://swimmingcoach.org/online-education/bowman-shallow-water/

          It happens without knowing what is happening. Besides myself, I have known half a dozen people that it has happened to and you can be brain dead within 2-3 minutes (not 7-8 in a regular drowning). In each case that I am aware of, for those who survived, no person felt they were ever drowning.

          • GBJames
            Posted July 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            Just to make sure I understand…

            The suggestion here is that what we need to do is train people on death row to be elite athletes so that we can use this execution technique?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

            Ah, hang on, is that the “hyperventilate then go into oxygen loss before your CO2 builds up to provoke breathing again” trick. Yeah, that’s known in scuba too – particularly when people were working with early (hand-made) oxygen re-breathers and messed up on their diluent levels.
            Hmmm, that might work. If the victim co-operated. Which is pretty implausible for an execution method.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      I am not so sure about that. I read somewhere, though I have not been able to substantiate it, that Antoine Lavoisier arranged with a friend to blink as many times as he could after his head was cut off. Apparently he managed fifteen times. Regardless, I do not think that we have any way of knowing what people undergoing a violent death must endure.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        I think it was a century or so after Lavoisier (he got guillotined himself didn’t he?), and from fluttering of the eyelids and response to sounds, the deduction was something like 5-10 seconds of awareness in the brain as blood pressure dropped and oxygen was used up.
        Ten seconds is a really long time when you’re running a lot of adrenaline. You’d need some pretty serious sedation to face that with equanimity.

        • Richard Bond
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Sorry for not being clearer: I meant that Lavoisier was doing the blinking and his friend was counting.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            Doing some cursory searching, I see Charlotte Corday (Marat’s murderer) mentioned, but not Lavoisier.

            Kershaw, Alister. “A History of the Guillotine.” New York : Barnes & Noble, 1993

            is cited as describing “Another often-told tale of demonstrated consciousness following beheading dates to 1905. French physician Dr. Gabriel Beaurieux witnessed the beheading of a man named Languille. He wrote that immediately afterward, “the eyelids and lips … worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds.” Dr. Beaurieux called out his name and said that Languille’s eyelids “slowly lifted up, without any spasmodic contraction” and that “his pupils focused themselves” . This happened a second time, but the third time Beaurieux spoke, he got no response.” That sounds very familiar to me.
            The Straightdope isn’t impressed by the Lavoisier story, either, but cites another couple of experiments with criminals suggesting maybe a limit of 10-15 seconds.
            I don’t remember what prompted me to research this a while ago. Probably another US execution.

  3. eric
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    “This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, ‘Let’s worry about the drugs,’ ”

    Yes, because if we don’t worry about it, then we have conducted a horrific murder too.

    “Why didn’t they give him a bullet? Why didn’t we give him Drano?”

    The way US executions have been going lately, I think going back to the firing squad would almost be better. Its certainly a faster death.

    There are reliable ways to execute someone by injection. That involves using the same drugs that people take when they end their own lives legally, as they do in Switzerland. The drugs are barbiturates, and are guaranteed to cause sleep and then a painless death.

    Why not just fill the room with N2? AIUI that also induces unconsciousness without pain or any warning signs, and N2 cylindars are cheap and readily available.

    • Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      Yes, it is CO2 concentration that evokes the “I can’t breathe” reaction. N2 will do it, painlessly. Hard for prison officials to monitor the person though.

      People have to be very careful around compression nitrogen. It can kill you and you don’t know anything until it’s too late. Check all your valves!

      • Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        … compressed nitrogen …

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        People have to be very careful around compression nitrogen. It can kill you and you don’t know anything until it’s too late.

        Yep. That’s why the “Koomey Unit” (even if it’s filled with equipment not made by Koomey Corp) is an authorised-access only part of the rig, and we have some quite complex procedures for re-charging the nitrogen bladders in the pulsation damper system – to list just two jobs that came up in the recent past on my rig.

        • Garnetstar
          Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

          All superconducting magnet labs, found in every university and research institution, use liquid nitrogen to keep the liquid helium cold to induce superconductivity.

          By law, the labs are equipped with alarms that sound if nitrogen partial pressure in the room rises, and all personnel are trained to run out immediately if the alarm sounds.

          So, watch out when using liquid nitrogen too.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 25, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

            In that case, the law isn’t required (apart from the general “duty of care” of employer to employee. We don’t do a lot of work with LN2 in my end of the business, but there is enough of it done that “triple meters” are routine in the gas monitoring business, looking for H2S (typically 5ppm alarm), CO (monoxide! ; 10ppm or so) and low-O2 (alarming at 19 or so %). Which covers a multitude of sins in one portable package.

            • Garnetstar
              Posted July 25, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

              Yeah, that sounds good.

              My profession uses the smell method of H2S detection, which has the major flaw of one’s nose getting saturated after a while, and you think that the gas is gone, while it’s actually rising to toxic levels. Damn stupid.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:28 am | Permalink

      I understand that Exit International suggest helium for a peaceful death, used in much the same way as N2. It could be applied using a mask, rather than filling the room. Disclaimer: I do not condone execution, but support assisted dying.

  4. francis
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    //

  5. Graeme
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Looking at the map, it strikes me that religiosity would likely be a strong indicator of the likelihood that a country retains capital punishment. Granted there are a few exceptions in either direction (e.g. China, Japan, Vietnam one way; countries in Central and South America the other).

  6. Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I object to the death penalty because people screw up. Far too many murder convictions are simply wrong (the governor of Illinois stopped all executions a few years back because the overturn rate using DNA evidence, generally in the US, was something like 1/3 of murder cases.)

    Unlike prison, execution is permanent. If you wrongly jail some one, at least we can set them free and compensate them with money. When they’re dead, that’s it.

    Based on recent statistics, probably something over 30% of executed prisoners were wrongly executed.

    Think about facing a wrongful execution yourself.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Actually, it was over half. They examined eighteen cases; ten were found to have been wrongly convicted. L

    • Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      I object to the death penalty partly because of the reason you just stated and the fact that, as Jerry pointed out, execution brings the state down to the level of a killer. But it’s not enough just to stop the death penalty, something must be done about the dizzying rate of incarceration in America over the last decade or so and the fraudulent convictions that come with a revolving door prison system. Particularly in the case of young, African-American men. When one looks at the sky-rocketing US prison population since the mid-to-late 70’s and the extent to which that population is young, male and black, it would appear as though the US government just replaced Jim Crow with the war on drugs.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        John Oliver did an excellent piece on that this week. I can’t believe they actually address parents being in prison on Sesame Street – that’s how pervasive it is! Oliver addresses this too.

      • exsumper
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        The same problem exists in the UK! There has been a vast increase in the prison population oer the same time period.

        Only the wealthiest 30 percent of the population can afford access to justice.

        The rest of us have either to defend ourselves or rely on some second rate representation provided tby the state. Additional costs such as independent forensic tests, or a top Q.C. have to be paid for by the defendant. Legal Aid has been a sick joke for sometime!

        • Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          Do the laws allow for privatized prison management in the UK? I ask because that is a contributing factor to the US prison population explosion.

          http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/09/20/2658701/private-prison-firms-quotas-cells-coffers/

          Privately managed prisons are, in some cases, guaranteed a certain occupancy rate or the state pays them for empty cells, giving the state a fiscal motive incarcerate as many people as they need to keep the jails full.

        • Mark R.
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          Wow, that surprises me. For some reason I thought the UK’s justice system was similar to ours in the US…in that you’d get legal representation regardless of status. What you describe is plain scary.

          And that John Oliver piece was disturbing. Yet another industry with greed as its driving force. Yay for privatization! barf!

          • bacopa
            Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

            In many cases in the US you don’t get representation from your appointed lawyer. A ten minute conversation between the lawyer and client in the hallway immediately before a hearing doesn’t really count.

            Of course, in a capital murder case you’ll get the best the court can offer, which is usually a bit more time with a lawyer who has at least had time to become informed about the case. But in most lower level trials, the defense has almost no knowledge of the facts of the case and almost always recommends a plea bargain.

  7. mattpenfold
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I have never understood people who say that they do not care if an execution causes suffering because the murderer did not show any mercy to his or her victim(s). Such people clearly despise murderers, so why use them as your moral benchmark ?

    • Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Our Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

      These are the same people who screech about the Constitution when it suits them.

      If they don’t like it, there is a procedure for changing it, maybe to “we value revenge and cruelty, therefore let them suffer” ?

      • jay
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        The weakness with your Constitutional argument is that capital punishment was fairly commonly accepted at the time, including by the signers of the Constitution.

        Now our perspectives may have changed, along with interpretations of the words, but the Constitution does not unambiguously back up us up either.

        • GBJames
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          “The Constitution” includes not just the original document but also the amendments and Supreme Court rulings that have been made over 200+ years. Referring simply to the original document and social conditions of 1889 is an overly narrow view of the matter.

    • jay
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      I despise murders too.

      I’m probably out of the mainstream here, but my biggest objection to capital punishment is that convictions frequent get made on shaky evidence. That is unacceptable.

      Truthfully I will not lose any sleep over the death of an actual murderer.

      • Posted July 25, 2014 at 1:15 am | Permalink

        I don’t think you’re out of the mainstream. I would argue that your biggest reason for being against the death penalty is the only reason that’s needed. It is simply unacceptable to kill innocent people since it can’t be undone. I doubt many of us lose sleep over someone like Jeffrey Dahmer dying (though he wasn’t executed).

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:32 am | Permalink

          +1

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Simple: the intuitive and psychologically potent principle of “Pay evil unto evil.”

      Acts of cruelty and murder by others provoke a strong, angry, moralistically sadistic, and anti-empathic urge in some, sometimes but not always in proportion to the level of “evil” shown. And it’s considered a sign of depravity and moral disgust – or at least of moral idiocy – to some if anyone questions that impulse, so it never occurs to them to do so.

      When you think about it, it’s not that hard to understand. In some respects, it’s simply a stronger version of the dislike we all express when confronted with anyone who commits crimes of that barbarity. It takes something stronger than everyday restraint, though, to see past an unbelievably disgusting murderer and think of them as a fellow human being with a life of their own, much less try to muster some degree of sympathy for their concerns.

      It certainly doesn’t help if you live in an honour culture (or something like it) that demands retribution for slights, insults, and much worse, as much of the South probably encourages. Honour before reason, and so on. And it can’t help but put fuel on the fire that reminders of personal mortality – such as murder – are likely to make one more aggressive and defensive at the best of times.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      They only despise murder if it’s someone else doing it. (Terry Pratchett uses this idea regularly)

  8. Kirth Gersen
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    My primary reservation is the fact that the alternative is a U.S. max prison — to be damned to an Earthly hell for life, or until killed brutally by other inmates; or to eventually emerge, broken, with no rights and no ability to secure employment. Compared to that dystopian “rehabilitation,” lethal injection is positively humane in comparison. Even if it took six hours, I’d choose it over the prison sentence.

    • Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      I think physician-assisted suicide should be generally available (to competent adults). You could have the choice. No one should complain about it then.

      I guess if you were guilty, it might be a comfort. If you were innocent, don’t you think you’d want to stick it out for the chance at release/exoneration?

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        Sounds reasonable to me, but I can’t help feel that there would be voices complaining that “It’s an easy way out” for a murderer. I seem to recall an outcry in the UK when serial murderer Fred West committed suicide while on remand awaiting trial. Now the Daily Fail is complaining that his wife Rose West has life so easy in her maximum security jail that she is not interested in applying for parole. You can’t please all the people…

    • Joe
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I see your point, but surely that’s an argument for reform of the prison system rather than in favour of the death penalty.

  9. Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    “We should be better than vicious criminals!”

    That is as plainly an eloquently as the matter can possibly be stated.

    • GBJames
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Yes.

      • Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        BTW James, I hope you didn’t take my recalcitrance on my comments regarding circumcision on the Mullah thread as a sign of disrespect as none was intended towards you, or Diana. I am very passionate about that issue and I can, at times, seem intractably stubborn in defense of my position. Both of your arguments were sound and you’ve caused me to refine my perspective on the issue and for that I thank both of you. This is my favorite forum on the internet and I have the utmost respect for all of the regular readers here.

        • GBJames
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          No prob, Bob.

          (I’d prefer “GBJ” or “GB” to “James”. Not that there is any way for y’all to know that ahead of time. I’m like Jerry in that I don’t like being called by simply my last name. But with a last name like “James” it is the story of my life. ;) )

          • Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

            Oh, I didn’t realize that was your last name, my mistake.

            • GBJames
              Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

              Like I said… Story of my life. ;)

              Since my wife didn’t change her name when we married (nor did I), I often get called “Jim Patin”.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          No worries. I didn’t take it that way nor do I think did GBJames. We all argue on here but respectfully as we all still like one another.

  10. Posted July 24, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    His 1989 rampage culminating in an attempted “suicide by cop” would have been more humane considering today’s margin of error with capital punishment procedures. The criminal system certainly needs an overhaul for better assessment, detainment, social restrictions, and supervised rehabilitation/integration. The “eye for an eye” motif does nothing to reduce recidivism rates and ignores the deeply dysfunctional aspects of our culture that influence the emergence of such behaviors or aggravate pre-existing mental illness (e.g., misogyny, disenfranchisement, lack of social mobility).

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Well said.

  11. Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    ‘Do we want them to suffer’?
    A few years ago Michael Portillo – a Conservative – made a TV programme here in the UK where he tried to find more humane ways of execution. He found a painless way with no suffering and took the data to an American official involved in executions. The guy said he wasn’t interested, as the offender deserved to suffer – his victims hadn’t been given the option when the killer murdered them.
    Portillo seemed nonplussed.

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Interesting. I was just wondering if any other measures had been tried for their humaneness, especially given eric’s comment above about how execution by firing squad would be less painful. Do you remember what that programme was called?

    • Ian Hewitson
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Although the death penalty was abolished in the UK in 1965, there seems to be a significant minority who would still support it here, encouraged as ever by the right wing newspapers.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        It would probably be a majority. Thank goodness for politicians.

        • exsumper
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          Thats nonsense. The majority here in the UK oppose the death penalty, precisely because of the cretinous stupidity of our politicians, and the establishment bias of our judiciary!

          • Richard Bond
            Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

            It is not nonsense at all. I have not seen a recent survey, but the public have consistently been keener on the death penalty than the politicians. And my memory goes back to well before the actual abolition.

            • exsumper
              Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

              I think I was rather hasty there! So I offer my unreserved apologies.

              I think I’m correct about the corruption endemic in our british judiciary.

              One only has to look at miscarriages of justice in the UK over the last 40 years, to see that the judges presiding over the cases were corrupt. They did not use their independent judgment but directed the jury in accordance with instructions from the government of the time.

              • Posted July 24, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                I think I was rather hasty there! So I offer my unreserved apologies.

                This is the internet. No unreserved apologies allowed!

      • Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        There’s a vocal minority in favour of it here in Canada. No idea about numbers, though.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

          I suspect it’s actually a minority (if only slightly) in the US, too. The left just doesn’t get out the vote the way the right does.

      • Leo
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        As long as the UK remains a member of the EU and/or a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (in particular its 13th protocol), the death penalty will remain abolished there. Ever wonder where the contiguous area of blue all over Europe in that Wikipedia map comes from? Thank goodness for international agreements among civilized nations.

    • eric
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      The US system obviously considers some suffering acceptable or even preferrable, because the executions are witnessed. That in itself puts all sorts of conditions on how the person can die. The question is whether these conditions rise to the ‘cruel and unusual’ level.

      I’m also guessing there is also something of a self-selection bias going on when we ask that question. The people who support the death penalty are probably the same people who are going to think that a completely peaceful death isn’t deserved, isn’t appropriate punishment. Meanwhile, the people who would find a completely peaceful death an acceptable method of execution are probably the same folk who object to the death penalty in the first place. So I’m betting that you simply aren’t going to find a lot of people who wholeheartedly support the death penalty but who think making it completely pain free is a worthy goal.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I watched that too. Portaloo went up in my estimation, considerably. The US-ian official OTOH was probably instrumental in guaranteeing the shut-down of extradition from Europe to the US for death-penalty ofences. It was in serious trouble before then, but I think it’s just plain a dead idea now.

  12. exsumper
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    These procedures can only go ahead wih the complicity and participation of medical professionals.

    Isn’t it about time the American Medical Association and the professional body governing anaethsatists, stopped paying lip service to the hypocratic oath and took action against the medical professionals who participate in these appallng exhibitions?

    • GBJames
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I think the way it works now is that the state conceals the identity of the medical professional to the extent of paying for services with cash so it can’t be traced.

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Query:
    Is it the American Medical Association or the government which prohibits doctors from participating in executions?

    (It’s probably a violation of the Hippocratic oath, but it might still be desirable if we are to have a death sentence at all.)

    =-=-

    I managed some 20 years ago to change the mind of a conservative Catholic friend of mine on the death penalty with this quotation from “Lord of the Rings”- spoken by Gandalf (in response to Frodo’s wish that Bilbo had killed Gollum)

    “Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends”
    (It’s in both the book and the extended version of the film.)

    • GBJames
      Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Great Gandalf quote.

      Oh… it would be the AMA for being a violation of the oath.

      • exsumper
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        That was my point. The AMA and society of anaethsatists are complete hypocrites, They publish guidance (to great fanfare) that participation in executions is unethical, yet to my knowledge, have never taken action against any medical professional who participates in these diabolical circuses!

        Its a bit like the revalations about rendition and torture a few years back.
        The only ethical individual involved was the torturer! because he was at least an honest man!

        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          The AMA is just a professional society, it is not their responsibility to discipline doctors for ethics violations or malpractice. IIRC, most doctors are not even members.

          Disciplinary proceedings would be the function of the state licensing board, which is surely not going to go against state law on this issue.

          • Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            The AMA could ruin the career of any medical professional if it wanted to, and I’m pretty sure they’d happily ruin the career of any such person who killed somebody.

            There’re reasons why states pay executioners in cash and don’t keep (or, at least, don’t disclose) records that could disclose their identities, and job security for the executioners is probably at the top of the list.

            b&

            • Latverian Diplomat
              Posted July 26, 2014 at 3:56 am | Permalink

              The privacy rules are there to keep the Dr.’s name out the newspaper, so that friends, neighbors, and colleagues don’t have to know, and to keep protesters from showing up at the Dr.’s home or practice. Whether the AMA could or would do what you claim or not, those rules would already be in place for those simple practical reasons.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted July 25, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

            Who’s on a state licensing board, aren’t they doctors? Isn’t medical ethics their JOB? How can state law override medical ethics in matters of life and death?

            Cowards.

            • Latverian Diplomat
              Posted July 26, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink

              If the law says a Dr. can’t lose their license for participating in an execution, then what can the board members do? Resign?

              OK, now the licensing board is comprisedd entirely of Dr.s who support the death penalty. Is that what you wanted?

              • Posted July 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                There’s more than just the medical license, and only the state is responsible for that. Specialists need certification by their peer organizations, and any anesthesiologist who participated in an execution would have said certification immediately revoked and become permanently unemployable. And only the anesthesiologists are really qualified to kill people in this manner. An anesthesiologist assisting in the suicide of a terminally-ill patient would be questionable enough…but state-sponsored murder? Seriously?

                Of all the ways to murder somebody, dressing it up as a medical procedure is about as perverted as it gets. History is not going to look kindly on us.

                b&

                >

    • Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      And yet, most of the villains in the LOTR achieve their poetic justice in very unpleasant ways. ;D

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        That’s the thing with poetic justice – it appeals to our base instincts, so by nature it tends to be nasty.

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        On the contrary, I think Sarumann does a lot of damage on the way out, and his death is petty and meaningless. Yet another reason why the Scouring of the Shire is the most important thing in the books that wasn’t in the movies.

        • GBJames
          Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          Yes. The absence of The Scouring of the Shire from the film trilogy was a huge mistake, IMO.

      • Posted July 25, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        Of course, Gandalf’s point was that Gollum was to yet play an important part. Or, to avoid his “special powers”, he knows that sometimes even the most reprehensible or evil can yet do things for good. After all, without Gollum the ring would never have been destroyed or, one would think, even have gotten returned to Mt. Doom.

  14. Posted July 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I am deeply ashamed by my society, and furious with our government representative. How dare we call ourselves, “civilized,” whilst we torture and murder our own.

    Imagine some deranged serial killer who strapped his victims to a table on a stage set up to resemble a medical facility, and who then dressed up as an anesthesiologist and injected his victim with various combinations of lethal drugs until, hours later, his victim finally died as his family watched, helpless to intervene. Even if this killer only performed retributive killings of people everybody could generally agree were not upstanding citizens, we’d still be up in arms and demand his arrest and conviction.

    Yet we, collectively, are that deranged serial killer.

    b&

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:50 am | Permalink

      Excellent analogy!

  15. Posted July 24, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I oppose capital punishment, but as a doctor I can assure you with as much confidence as I have ever had in anything, if he was really given just midazolam and hydromorphone, he did not suffer. In fact he probably felt pretty fantastic as he drifted off to sleep.

  16. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    The Onion is on it – a head ripping off machine to be used for humanely executing prisoners.

  17. Garnetstar
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Rachel Maddow pointed out that this is nothing but experimentation on human subjects, no different than Nazi experiments in the death camps on which means of causing death were the most efficient.

    Very true, and I most strongly object.

    • Garnetstar
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      I meant, it is nothing else but experimentation on human subjects.

  18. Posted July 25, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Enough of those two drugs would kill a person. All they had to do when he started gasping was give more. So they either wanted him to suffer or were being cheap.

    • Posted July 26, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      This same combination has been used in all of the recent botched executions. Clearly, the drugs don’t work as expected. Also complicating matters is that they’re being supplied by shady compounding pharmacies.

      These really are Nazi-style “medical” “experiments” on how to kill human beings. The only difference is the scale of the operation.

      Apparently, we never did learn the lesson Stanley Milgram would have taught us.

      b&

      >


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,795 other followers

%d bloggers like this: