Sunday, June 1, 2014

NY Times: The Secret Shame Of The Death Penalty

The botched Oklahoma execution of convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett cast new doubt on the lethal injection as a method of carrying out the death penalty. Now another convicted rapist and murderer, Russell Bucklew of Missouri, has been granted a stay after doctors found that a congenital disorder would cause him to hemorrhage, choke and suffocate. In an editorial, "The Secret Shame of the Death Penalty," the New York Times argues that lethal injection is not an alternative that enables the state to kill in a "civilized" manner:

Lethal injection has already come under increased scrutiny following multiple botched executions, most recently Oklahoma’s appalling 43-minute torture of Clayton Lockett last month. Multiple legal challenges to the procedure have centered on whether states may keep secret the drug protocols they use and the shady compounding pharmacies that make them.

But Missouri is now tasked with finding a way to kill Mr. Bucklew that doesn’t hurt too much. At least state officials let him live until the Supreme Court ruled on the case, a courtesy they did not extend to another death-row inmate, Herbert Smulls, in January.

Welcome to the macabre absurdity of the modern American death penalty. Of course, death by lethal injection became the standard method only because earlier methods — from hanging to the firing squad to the electric chair — were deemed too “barbaric,” not because the state was taking a human life, but because the method of execution offended the sensitivities of the public in whose name the killing is carried out.

By now, it is clear that lethal injection is no less problematic than all the other methods, and that there is no reason to continue using it. But capital punishment does not operate in the land of reason or logic; it operates in a perpetual state of secrecy and shame.

In most cases, it is conducted late at night, behind closed doors, and as antiseptically as possible. Were it to be done otherwise, Americans would recoil in horror, as they did after the debacle in Oklahoma. Mr. Bucklew’s unusual case shows that death-penalty supporters can’t have it both ways. If they want the United States to remain a global outlier by killing its citizens, they must accept that there are no clean executions.

Image: Nate Beeler, The Washington Examiner

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