Sunday, 4 November 2007

Brutality, Disguised

The Supreme Court should end both lethal injection and capital punishment altogether

Published On Friday, November 02, 2007 12:44 AM


Tuesday evening, Earl W. Berry, a Mississippi prisoner condemned to lethal injection, was just moments away from facing his fate when the Supreme Court wisely granted a stay of execution. Legal experts say that this decision signals to lower courts that a de facto moratorium on lethal injection is in place, at least until the Supreme Court hears a case on whether injection is cruel and unusual later this term. Although this is a step in the right direction, it is a distraction to the real issue at hand: the ultimate end of capital punishment.

It seems likely that the Court will maintain this moratorium on capital punishment until it issues a ruling on whether lethal injection is constitutional, which is appropriate when both the legality and morality of lethal injection remain in question. However, the case it will hear in January relates only to the mode of punishment, not its very existence. While the number of executions per year has dropped to 42 this year, its lowest level in more than a decade, we cannot let the moratorium distract us from the larger issues at stake.

Although lethal injection is less gruesome than other methods of execution, it is no less brutal. Research indicates that the anesthetic can wear off, while another drug keeps the condemned paralyzed, thus giving the illusion of serenity, underscored with massive unseen pain. The drugs are known to take anywhere between seven minutes to two hours to be effective, and finding a suitable vein is often a long, torturous ordeal. It is stupefying to fathom that lethal injection, which has been used for almost 25 years, is only now being seen as cruel and unusual punishment.

This makes lethal injection more insidious. By disguising the true horror of execution with medicine, lethal injection anesthetizes society to what amounts to murder by the state. We hope that the Supreme Court rules against lethal injection, finally recognizing its true nature.

Beyond the method of lethal injection, we believe that the death penalty is categorically wrong, both morally and legally. Our system of justice is inevitably imperfect, and even one tragic mistake costing an innocent life is too much. The connection between the death penalty and racially charged cases is well documented, and the system needs to be reevaluated to eliminate biases. In an age where all of Western Europe, Canada, and many other countries have abolished the death penalty, it is hard to understand how the United States, with its explicit constitutional denunciation of “cruel and unusual punishment,” can justify retaining such anachronistic, unjust, and inherently flawed barbarism.

We can only hope that the justices of the Supreme Court, who voted 7-2 in favor of the stay of execution, will not only end lethal injection but open the door to abolishing capital punishment entirely.

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