Botched execution signals end of the death era

What you need to know:

  • Europeans, who once guillotined people in public squares, have banned the death penalty and disapprove America’s determination to carry it out. They are exporting their values by making it difficult to use European pharmaceuticals in American death houses.

On Tuesday evening, a man who was sentenced to death after committing murder in Oklahoma was injected with a lethal drug mixture. It was the first time the drug was being used in an execution.

His vein collapsed and he died of a heart attack after writhing in pain.

This is despite the fact that America’s choice of execution, lethal injection, is supposed to provide a humane death. A three drug cocktail is designed to put the prisoner to sleep and then stop his heart and lungs.

But this botched execution – more than any other in the past – may begin a process that will result in the end of the death penalty in America.

There are at least four reasons:  Executing prisoners – no matter how horrible their crime – is losing popularity. Lethal drugs are in short supply, because many drug manufacturers oppose the death penalty. 

The death penalty has done nothing to reduce America’s violent crime. This year, 85 people have been killed in Chicago. Finally, a swarm of lawsuits will weigh down the death houses.

Killing is a terrible business.  When America was hanging bad guys, heads could pop off from an imperfect noose. Firing squads produce lots of gore. Gas chambers cause long, excruciating deaths. Electric chairs lit prisoners on fire at times.

The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment demands that the government should not impose cruel and unusual punishment. Yet 32 of 50 states, the federal government and the military continue to have capital punishment laws. Europeans, who once guillotined people in public squares, have banned the death penalty and disapprove America’s determination to carry it out. They are exporting their values by making it difficult to use European pharmaceuticals in American death houses.

DRUGS SHORTAGE

To get around the drugs shortage, some state prisons in America are concocting their own death cocktails and trying to hide the recipe from the public, lawyers and prisoners.  Such is the case in Oklahoma.

What lies ahead is a long legal road. Lawsuits will be filed in many places to make state governments transparent about the contents of drugs used in executions. States will fight the lawsuits. But it is likely that executions will be put on hold until the matter is settled.

A prediction is that states will be required to name the companies that are providing the drug cocktails. That will mean fewer drugs flowing to states, because companies will not want to be held liable for botched executions. We will continue to see executions, but the pace will begin to slow.

There will be long and loud debates over the real purpose of executions – justice or revenge. The religious will argue the case both ways – either the Holy Book teaches us that execution is just or that it violates the principles of life.

But the debate is essentially over, because economics have won. Capital punishment is on a deadly spiral in America.

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