The Battle for Death Penalty Abolishment
Is it ever justified to take a life? The death penalty does just that, and should be abolished. Ever since the death penalty was first put into effect, 1,477 executions have taken place, 276 of which have been considered botched. This paper explores the sciences behind the death penalty such as whether or not the three drug execution method is efficient, and safe. Additionally, it explores alternatives such as the electric chair, gas chamber, and firing squad, respectively. It exposes the safety and efficacy, often shielded to the public. Addressing whether or not the death penalty is safe is important to society because on average three executions are scheduled to take place each month. Part of the reason the American public maintains support of capital punishment is because executions are carried out in secret and disillusion people by making it sound as though it is a simple medical procedure. Botched executions are common and expose a huge problem largely unknown to the public. Abolishment of the death penalty is not driven by sympathy for the inmate, but rather human rights for all individuals not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
In order to explore the safety behind the death penalty, it must first be understood how it works. Thirty five states currently use the most common method of execution, lethal injection. This 3-drug method of execution, which consists of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride, is thought to be simple, easy, and painless. However, recent studies and lawsuits prove otherwise. Sodium thiopental is responsible for rendering the prisoner unconscious, pancuronium bromide paralyzes the muscles, and potassium chloride stops the heart. The problem occurs when the sodium thiopental fails to do its job, leaving the prisoner paralyzed and gasping for air, eventually suffocating to death. This has drawn the attention of advocates who believe everyone, even those who commit murder, have an inalienable right not to suffer or endure torment. It has led to several litagations such as Baze vs Rees : 2008, a court case that exposed the suffering prisoners endure. It was backed up with many qualified doctor reports. Doctors argue that medicine and punishment should not coincide. They state, “American Medical Association’s ethics code forbids doctors to perform an array of acts at executions, including prescribing the drugs, supervising prison personnel, selecting intravenous sites, placing intravenous lines, administering the injections and pronouncing death”.
Additionally, European manufacturers of these common lethal execution drugs have refused to sell them to the U.S. This leaves prisons and the U.S. government struggling with a dwindling supply of drugs and trying to find drug substitutes, further leading to botched executions. The drugs currently used are produced by small compounding companies who create medical cocktails which are not FDA approved. Officials are forced with trying to find alternative methods of execution.
Alternatively, electrocution has been used but it is also inhumane. Prior to execution, prisoners are shaved, lathered in a salt solution, then strapped into the chair. Electrodes are placed on the head and calf of the inmate. The chair delivers 1000 volts for a 30 second period of time. After that, a doctor waits for the smoldering body to cool down before checking for a pulse. If a pulse is still present, an additional 20 seconds of 1000 volts is given. Electrocution leads to painful paralysis of the brain’s respiratory center and violently stops the muscles pumping the heart. Prisoners are left with burns all over their body, singed hair and blood vessels which have burst.. This might seem like a quick way to die, however studies have shown that prisoners possibly live up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds after the first shock. There have been cases of prisoners suffering through an execution, such as William Kemmler. In this particular execution, reporters witnessed the cruel and horrifying process. Witness’ stated, “The initial 17-second charge merely knocked Kemmler unconscious, prompting attending physician E.C. Spitzka to shout ‘Have the current turned on again, quick, no delay!’ Not only was the current turned on again, the power was amped up to 2,000 volts. Kemmler’s body caught fire in what one reporter called ‘an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging”. The electric chair is unreliable and hasn’t been researched thoroughly. The electric chair is currently used as an optional execution method in five states.
Furthermore, the introduction of the gas chamber was an attempt to improve on electrocution. However, this is another example of inhumane punishment. The prisoner is strapped into a chair with a container of sulfuric acid and cyanide, a combination of deadly gasses. Execution is then carried out by suffocation within the gas chamber. It is a cruel punishment as the prisoner takes a quick breath and his face becomes contorted as he attempts to fight through agonizing pain. With jaws clenched tight, he takes several gulps of the toxic fumes and begins to convulse violently. Foamy drool begins to form from the prisoner’s mouth. Suffocation is evident as veins in the temple turn bright red and bulge as if they might burst. The body shakes violently as it begins to spasm and the head begins to snap back. Convulsions seem endless and can last up to eight minutes until finally the prisoner shows no signs of life.
Lastly, some states are advocating bringing back the firing squad. This would once again be a step in the wrong direction and impose a tortuous death. Although the United States currently bans the firing squad, it is not retroactive. Prisoners in Utah who have chosen this way to die prior to the ruling are still entitled to have it. It is an archaic method which involves placing a hood over the inmate and restraining the inmate as marksmen fire shots, piercing the heart. This is a method which relies heavily on the preciseness of the shot. Targets have been missed in the past causing the inmate severe pain and trauma. Many of the marksmen suffer great distress and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Even though shots are fired simultaneously, the guilt that they may have been the one who fired the lethal shot lingers. This is another example of inhumane killing which inflicts excruciating pain.
In conclusion, it is the ultimate punishment, reserved for only the worst crimes committed, however, capital punishment is barbaric, tortuous, and always irrevocable. It deprives a person of the opportunity to perhaps investigate new evidence, not available at the time of trial, that may warrant exoneration. Capital punishment removes any glimmer of doubt about fair due process or guilt. No matter how sophisticated a judicial system is, it will always remain susceptible to human error. Although their crime was incomprehensible to many, an eye for an eye does not justify lack of respect for human life. Criminals deserve to be punished for the pain they have inflicted on the innocent and the heartbreak they have caused families, however, capital punishment is not the answer. Punishments of torture, such as all the methods discussed, evoke tremendous pain and must have limits. It violates an inmates right not to be subjected to cruel punishment or torture. Putting a person to death is contemptible, and capital punishment is immoral. The art of institutional killing may have been modified over the years, however, it still remains inhumane and it has deadened our compassionate human response to death. Capital punishment exposes a destructive side of human nature and should be abolished.