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A Rube Goldberg Machine

About 10 minutes ago my sister made me aware of this fantastic article from Time Magazine titled “Death Penalty Walking” written by David Von Drehle. I am embarrassed to say that she found it before me, but, she writes for Time Inc. so she has a slight advantage. You can read the article HERE. The article, spurred by the US Supreme Court case, gives a comprehensive review of the problems plaguing this public policy as well as discussion into lethal injection and the importance of Baze v. Rees.

On the method of executions:

“In a perfect world, perhaps, the government wouldn’t wait 30 years and several hundred executions to determine whether an execution method makes sense. But the world of capital punishment has never been that sort of place. This weighty moral issue, expressive of some of our society’s deeply held values, involves a lot of winging it. In 1990, for instance, a sponge used in the headpiece of Florida’s electric chair wore out. There’s no factory or parts catalog for execution devices, so the prison sent a guy to pick up a sponge at the store. Problem was, he bought a synthetic sponge instead of a genuine sea sponge, and when Jesse Tafero was strapped in, his head caught fire. Florida officials diagnosed the problem afterward by testing a similar sponge in a toaster.”

Does this really surprise anyone? Well, let me rephrase, does this surprise anyone already familiar with how bungled up the death penalty is?

On lethal injection’s inception:

“In comparison, lethal injection sounds more scientific–almost therapeutic–but its history is as improvised as that supermarket sponge. In 1977 an Oklahoma lawmaker sketched the protocol on a notepad with the help of a medical examiner. More research has gone into the proper way to brush your teeth.”

From what I understand, one of the more compelling reasons that a 3 drug cocktail has been administered for so long is that officials felt it would be odd to use the same procedures on animals as on humans. Animals (sick ones) are fortunate enough to receive a one drug dose which kills them in a humane manner while humans (healthy ones) are given a concoction that was chosen because it was simply divergent than the animal practices.

Fix it or end it:

“The debate almost always comes down to the question of whether to fix it or end it. But these alternatives largely miss the reality. Every attempt to fix the death penalty bogs down in the same ambivalence. We add safeguards one day, then shortcut them the next. One government budget contains millions of dollars for prosecutions, while another department spends more millions to defend against them. Indeed, the very essence of ambiguity is our vain search for a bloodless, odorless, motionless, painless, foolproof mode of killing healthy people. No amount of patching changes the nature of a Rube Goldberg machine.”

Reading that above made me think of sitting in on the committee meetings thus far here in Tennessee. Any attempt to fix it is of course a positive act and one that I would welcome, but, it would cost the state millions of dollars and (the article delves into this) open up new venues for death penalty attorneys to appeal their cases. I applaud Tennessee’s efforts to study and fix the administration of the death penalty but as always, I will continue to advocate for abolition.

Uniqueness of Baze v. Rees

“There’s nothing attractive about the specifics of the death chamber. In the arguments on Jan. 7, the Justices may hear descriptions of bloody surgeries, called cutdowns, performed by EMTs and less trained prison officials as they struggle to insert IV lines into the ruined veins of longtime drug abusers. Without a doctor present, it often falls to prison officials–sometimes watching from a separate room–to determine whether an inmate is unconscious or simply paralyzed as the searingly painful heart-stopping agent potassium chloride takes effect.”

I’d like to think we live in a civilized society in the year 2008 but that paragraph conjures up thoughts up methods of torture from the Middle Ages. If we didn’t have the death penalty we would not have to waste our time with this case, amending the methods, the appeals, etc. Also, family members of the victims would not receive false promises of retribution and closure that never comes. Instead, they could rest easy knowing from the very beginning that the murderer will be behind bars in terrible conditions for the rest of their natural life. If the death penalty were never an option in the first place, I believe victims would be better served.

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