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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Diatribe!



I know. I know I keep saying I won't comment on real issues. I know as well as you that I don't really know anything, and that when I do this, I hurt myself and I hurt Jesus. But seriously. The New York Times editorial page is written by Tony the Tiger and a bag of monkey poop.

What do we get today? We get a piece called Lethal Cruelty about how the death penalty is unconstitutional, and how, bizarrely, the Supreme Court should rule it to be so on the basis that if it's done wrong, it could hurt. Let's take a peek!

Lethal injection is considered by some to be a more humane alternative to the electric chair. But the Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case that shines a light on the reality: if lethal injection is poorly administered, it can in fact be particularly barbaric. In today's case, Clarence Hill, a condemned man, is arguing that it would be unconstitutional for Florida to execute him with what he contends are its flawed lethal injection procedures. The case comes to the court in a tricky procedural posture that poses the question of whether Mr. Hill should be able to bring his claim at all. The court should clear the way for Mr. Hill's challenge.


Let's get one thing straight: the primary issue being ruled on is whether or not an inmate can challenge the method of his execution. So all this talk about the constitutionality of the death penalty itself seems a little premature. But even barring that, I'm always interested in these "The eighth amendment bars the death penalty" arguments. Which is to say, nobody ever makes one.

I've yet to hear a reason why putting someone to death is cruel and unusual. I am sympathetic to the view that due process might prohibit someone from being put to death in the absence of, for example, a higher standard of evidence. But "it's cruel and unusual" always strikes me as faulty. Most of what I've heard regarding the issue can equally be applied to any other punishment we mete out - it's disproportionately used on blacks, it's irreversable. All of these are true of anything we do to any prisoner. And also - and I might be alone on this one - it seems hard to reconcile the constitution barring a punishment that it specifically allows for.

In lethal injection, three different chemicals are administered in sequence. The first is an anesthetic, another paralyzes the muscles and stops breathing, and a third stops the heart. Improper administration of the anesthetic can have the ghoulish effect of leaving the prisoner able to feel the tremendous pain of being killed by the poison that is injected into him while rendering him unable to communicate his agony by sound or gestures.


Paraphrase: If done improperly, it's possible for the person to suffer.

Now, they say there's an amicus brief from some group with "Physicians" in the title that says that, if you do not anesthetize the inmate, he may suffer while you kill him. My immediate reaction was, "Wow! That's horrible! How often does this happen?" Naturally, there are no facts to back this up. It seems like the argument is: it's possible for this to fail, so we're going to go ahead and pretend like it happens all the time.

Likewise, if a prisoner's punishment is to be locked in a jail cell, and the cell door breaks and you can't get it open and he starves to death: that would be unconstitutionally cruel. This is not a reason not to lock people up, unless it becomes an endemic problem.

It seems as if this whole argument is faulty. If it were really true that anesthesia is so difficult to administer, then of the millions who have surgery every year, there should be widespread reports of people who are operated on while still conscious. The article contends "Meanwhile, it said, "onlookers believe him to be unconscious and insensitive to any pain." - the implication being, of course, that they never tell anyone, because they are dead, so we just don't know. So has anyone heard of anyone being operated on, while a trained anesthesiologist looks on, believing her to be out, but while in fact she is in immense pain from the scalpeling?

I mean, you could even go so far as to say that someone in that situation would probaly die of shock. Being aware while your chest is cracked open is not very pleasant. Yet this hasn't happened, because the argument is bullshit, and the editorial is also bullshit.

On the other hand, this one does a pretty good job of illustrating why I don't believe in private universities.

cranked out at 10:57 PM | |

 
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