By Gail Besse 10/29/2007
The Anchor (www.fallriverdiocese.org/resources.asp)
BOSTON, Mass. (The Anchor) — Lethal injection has made headlines since the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Sept. 25 to hear arguments on whether this method of execution violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The case before the court directly involves only two convicted murderers in Kentucky, but death penalty foes hope the national attention will offer teachable moments about capital punishment.
That interest could also present an opening to inject debate into the lethal silence on another life issue. The same drug – potassium chloride - that produces cardiac arrest in a death row inmate also ensures death in an unborn child during some abortions. T
his practice helps guarantee that abortionists won’t accidentally deliver a live baby, a possibility they’re especially uneasy about since the Supreme Court ruled April 18 to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion.
Method at issue
The current capital punishment case of Kentucky inmates Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. does not challenge the death penalty itself, but rather the method the state uses for chemical execution. That method is said to put a prisoner at risk of suffering a particularly gruesome death if the drugs aren’t administered properly.
Opponents of the “three-drug cocktail” lethal injection claim that if the first anesthetic drug doesn’t render the prisoner unconscious, then potassium chloride — the heart-stopping drug — can cause unbearable pain.
They say that inmates would be unable to signal they’re in pain because they’ve also been given a paralysis-inducing drug. Frank McNeirney, a spokesman for Catholics Against Capital Punishment, told Catholic News Service, “I hope the descriptions of the way we put people to death via lethal injection may convince a majority of the justices that the process is indeed cruel and unusual.”
Lethal drugs for abortion
By contrast, prominent doctors explained in a Boston Globe article August 10 how lethal injections are used in some later term abortions. “Shots assist in aborting fetuses: Lethal injections offer legal shield,” the article reported. “In response to the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, many abortion providers in Boston and around the country have adopted a defensive tactic.
“To avoid any chance of partially delivering a live fetus, they are injecting fetuses with lethal drugs before procedures.” The article continued: “In Boston, three major Harvard-affiliated hospitals — Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, and Beth Israel Deaconess — have responded to the ban by making the injections the new standard operating procedure for abortions beginning at around 20 weeks' gestation, said Dr. Michael F. Greene, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General. Boston Medical Center, too, has begun using injections for later surgical abortions, said Dr. Phillip Stubblefield, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University Medical School.”
In response to Anchor inquiries about whether anesthesia is used, Greene did not reply. Stubblefield wrote in an Oct. 17 email that it is not. He said that at a gestational age of less than 24 weeks, a fetus “cannot yet feel pain.” That claim is disputed, however.
The proposed federal Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act states that by at least 20 weeks gestation, an unborn child responds to painful stimuli by drawing away from it much like an infant or adult would.
The bill would ensure that women seeking an abortion are fully informed of the pain their unborn child may feel. “Like the death row inmate, however, they can't express that pain,” said Father Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, in a recent statement.
“So even without raising the issue of whether abortion itself is constitutional, could we not halt the execution of these children out of the same humanitarian concern of sparing fellow human beings pain?"
One Massachusetts woman was appalled enough at reading the Globe report to ask, “How should Catholics respond to this revelation?”
An ‘insidious attack’
In an Oct. 12 letter to The Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper, Alice Slattery of Framingham quoted the article and concluded: “What kind of reasoning leads these doctors to approve this insidious attack on innocent babies about to emerge from the womb? Why are we silent?”
When Msgr. Francis Strahon, pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Framingham, was alerted to the issue by other pro-life Catholics, he told parishioners about it via a bulletin insert and asked fellow priests to do the same. “Can you believe this is happening?” the Oct. 14 insert read.
“Where is the outrage?” The pastor said in an interview: “We need people to keep us aware of these issues. It shows you how barbaric we’ve become when you realize that even vets won’t use this drug alone on animals without anesthesia.” Ironically, the human-rights group Amnesty International, which opposes execution by lethal injection, recently came out in favor of legalizing abortion.
Yet its September report, “Execution by lethal injection — a quarter century of state poisoning,” says the drug used to induce unconsciousness can wear off before the prisoner's heart stops, “placing him at risk of excruciating pain” but unable to convey this.
One of the arguments against capital punishment is that wrongly convicted people could be executed. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, nearly 1100 people nationwide have been executed since 1976, but another 124 have been “released from death row with evidence of their innocence” since 1973.
Since 1973, when the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, there’s been no commutation for nearly 50 million unborn innocents. - - -
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Anchor (www.fallriverdiocese.org/resources.asp), official newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass.