FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

There is No Civilizing the Death Penalty

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

“Hanging was the worst use a man could be put to.”

Sir Henry Wotton,
The Disparity Between Buckingham and Essex

The death penalty has once again made news. October 10 the European Union marked the first World Day Against the Death Penalty by calling for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. The United States is in the company of, among others, Iran and Nigeria in using the death penalty to modify people’s behavior. It is, of course, more civilized in its use than Nigeria so some may dislike lumping the two together. On the other hand, dead is dead.

The difference between the two countries was highlighted by Nigeria’s Amina Lawal, a single mother sentenced to death for having had a baby out of wedlock. She was to be executed in a far less humane method than that employed in places such as Tennessee. She was to be buried up to her neck in sand and pelted with stones until dead. (Nigeria’s highest court overturned her sentence not because it was inhumane but because she had not been observed when conceiving the child and was not given adequate time to understand the charges against her.)

Although stoning is not favored in the United States, a report in the New York Times on October 1 discloses that contrary to popular belief, people who are executed by lethal injection are not as happy as the drugs they are given cause them to appear.

Lethal injection was introduced because death by gassing was considered unpleasant and resulted in occasional misbehavior by those being executed. The most notable case occurred in Arizona when the recipient of the gas made obscene gestures at the onlookers while dying, thus spoiling the event for the onlookers. Shortly thereafter Arizona switched to lethal injection. What we learned on October 7 is that lethal injection is not as pleasant as all but those having first hand acquaintance with it, thought.

People who have watched someone being killed by lethal injection have observed that those being sent on their way appear as tranquil as those in a hospital room whose lives are being preserved by the most modern techniques known to civilized people. That is in part because one part of the cocktail that is administered to the soon to be departed is the chemical, pancuronium bromide, known by the trade name, Pavulon.

Pavulon paralyzes the skeletal muscles but not the brain or nerves. Thus, people receiving it cannot move or speak nor can they let onlookers know that contrary to appearances, what is happening is no fun at all. A Tennessee judge, Ellen Hobbs Lyle, commenting on the use of the drug in an appeal brought by someone on death row in that state, said Pavulon has no “legitimate purposes.” Writing about the drug’s use she said: “The subject gives all the appearances of a serene expiration when actually the subject is feeling and perceiving the excruciatingly painful ordeal of death by lethal injection. The Pavulon gives a false impression of serenity to viewers, making punishment by death more palatable and acceptable to society.”

Sherwin B. Nuland, a professor in the Yale medical school when told of use of the drug expressed surprise. He said: “It strikes me that it makes no sense to use a muscle relaxant in executing people. Complete muscle paralysis does not mean loss of pain sensation.” He said, in effect, that there were other ways of humanely killing people. I’m sure he’s right, but there are 28 states that use the same cocktail in the execution chamber as Tennessee. The first drug administered is sodium thiopental, used to induce anesthesia for a short period. It is followed by pancuronium bromide which paralyzes the patient and finally potassium chloride which stops the heart and is said to cause excruciating pain if the victim is conscious.

It would be easy to simply condemn Tennessee for being a state that lacks respect for human life. That would be a mistake. Tennessee has a law that is known as the “Nonlivestock Animal Humane Death Act.” Nonlivestock is defined to include pets, captured wildlife, exotic and domesticated animals, rabbits, chicks, ducks and potbellied pigs. Tennessee law says: “A nonlivestock animal may be tranquilized with an approved and humane substance before euthanasia is performed.” The law then provides that “any substance which acts as a neuromuscular blocking agent, or any chamber which causes a change in body oxygen may not be used on any nonlivestock animal for the purpose of euthanasia.

The unfortunate things, as far as those facing the executioner’s needle in Tennessee is concerned, is that humans are excluded from the definition of “nonlivestock animals.” Thus, the requirement for a humane execution that is imposed on those killing animals, is not imposed on those killing humans. Tennessee is not alone in being more concerned about kind executions of nonlivestock animals than humans.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has come out against using the product when euthanizing animals when it is used alone or in combination with sodium pentobarbital. According to a 2000 report from the Association, “the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized.” That might almost be enough to convince some people that what’s good for the potbellied pig should be good for a human. On the other hand the potbellied pig is killed for what it is rather than what it did. That probably explains the more humane treatment.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail