To start this off, I've quoted James Wilson, one of our vaunted 'founding fathers,' revered like some kind of secular saints, even if the principles they stood for are often ignored by the same folks who claim to venerate them. Please forgive the source, the 'Bill of Rights Institute' appears to be run by fellows with Koch brothers ties; but in quoting their own material back at them, there is a point to it.
James Wilson lectured on justice and punishments, saying in 1791, “A nation [that tolerates] cruel punishments becomes dastardly and contemptible. For in nations, as well as individuals, cruelty is always attended by cowardice.” He argued that punishments should be swift, certain, and moderate in order to be effective and prevent further crime.Unfortunately, this nation rightly stands accused of having become just that, dastardly and contemptible, tolerant of cruel punishments that are neither swift, certain, nor moderate.
The recently botched execution in Oklahoma has received plenty of coverage in the media, and this morning Melissa Harris-Perry weighed in on it. She pointed out how far back the concept of cruel and unusual punishment goes in our society -- back to a Virginia declaration of rights that predates the Constitution, even the Declaration of Independence. From what I've read, it appears to date back even further, the same words appearing in the English Bill of Rights from 1689. And we have the words of James Wilson, a 'founding father' who contributed to the drafting of the Constitution, one of our first justices on the Supreme Court. What else do those Kochophants have to say about their secular sainthood?
This amendment prohibits excessive fines and bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishments. The phrase “cruel and unusual punishments” first appeared in the English Bill of Rights. In colonial America, the British often employed branding, whipping, public humiliation and extremely long prison sentences for minor offenses. The Founders believed that justice requires that even those people found guilty of crimes be protected from this kind of treatment.That's right, they did have a penchant for complaining about the king's abuses, didn't they?
Having observed the same discussions of the method occur time and again, I expect the same will happen here. Before that happens, I want to examine the methods in use and the reasons why. It's interesting to get the explanation directly from the source of the chemical cocktail used in Oklahoma. Well, the one they used before they had to start making substitutions, anyway. A lot of noise has been made about the heinous crimes that led to this execution. I wonder if notions such as these might be considered heinous as well?
E-mail from A. Jay Chapman, supra note 121. When pressed further on why the particular combination of drugs was suggested, Chapman offered the following explanation:Yeah, he didn't shut up with that, either...
Obviously, it would not be necessary to use all three of the drugs. Any one of them would do the trick -- even a massive overdose of the ultrashort barbiturate -- as it is done with the euthanasia of animals. The pancuronium would also do it, but the effect would be delayed for the asphyxia to develop from the inability of the person to carry on respiration. Potassium chloride could be given alone as well, although it does cause pain as it travels through the vein in high concentration -- which might [be] a problem for some folks, but that would not be a problem, so far as I am concerned.
Perhaps hemlock is the answer for all the bleeding hearts who completely forget about the victims -- and their suffering -- Socrates style. The things that I have seen that have been done to victims is [sic] beyond belief. And we should worry that these horses' patoots should have a bit of pain, awareness of anything-give me a break.answers for these questions. Let's take a look. Start with the KCl.
It’s not about the prisoner. It’s about public policy. It’s about the audience and prison personnel who have to carry out the execution. It would be hard for everybody to have to sit and wait for the EKG activity to cease so they can declare the prisoner dead.So everyone involved would have to wait a long time, maybe a half hour or more, and apparently that's unacceptable. Keep in mind that this source went to a Dr. Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiologist, expert witness and defender for states, defending their lethal injection protocols against constitutional challenges. The potassium chloride is quick, that's why they like it. Well. It's supposed to be quick. It causes cardiac arrest and death.
They said Lockett eventually died of a heart attack...makes one wonder what went on behind those blinds, or if we'll ever know.
In the three-drug sequence, the neuromuscular blocking agent such as Pavulon is not necessary to ensure the prisoner’s death nor does it reduce any suffering he may feel. Confronting a record devoid of justification for the use of Pavulon, the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded its use is “unnecessary and the state has no reason for using such a ‘psychologically horrific’ drug to execute [a condemned inmate]… If Pavulon were eliminated from the … lethal injection method, it would not decrease the efficacy or the humaneness of the procedure.”107 Asked why he included a paralytic agent in Oklahoma’s statute, Chapman told Human Rights Watch: “What’s the problem? We could have a five or six drug protocol, I don’t care. I called for the use of a barbiturate and a paralytic agent just because it’s better to have two things that could kill a prisoner than one.”108
Pancuronium bromide does serve a purpose, however. It places a “chemical veil” between the condemned prisoner and the execution team and witnesses.109 According to Dershwitz, “The pancuronium will prevent motor manifestations of physiological processes that could be perceived by witnesses as unpleasant or suffering on the part of the inmate.”110 When the potassium chloride induces cardiac arrest, it also deprives a condemned inmate’s brain of oxygen, which may cause an “involuntary jerking of the arm and leg muscles … a lay witness in the audience may misperceive that … as something akin to suffering. And so the pancuronium would prevent the motor manifestation of that procedure … so in my mind, the pancuronium does serve a useful purpose.”111
The trend began in 2010, when diminishing supplies of sodium thiopental—the first drug in the three-drug “cocktail” upheld by the Court in Rees—prompted death penalty states to get creative in their search for execution drugs. In 2011, I wrote an article for The Nation describing the consequences in Georgia, where two inmates had recently died with their eyes open—a grim indication that the sodium thiopental had not worked as intended, and that the men had likely suffered agonizing deaths. There was also evidence that the drugs had been used past their expiration dates. Lawyers for death row inmates traced source of the drugs overseas to a sketchy pharmaceutical wholesaler named Dream Pharma, which advertised that it could discreetly sell “discontinued” and “hard to find” drugs.Appropriately immobilized, it doesn't much matter after that what happens. A prisoner may suffer the burning pain of the potassium chloride before it kills them, or simply asphyxiate, aware but helpless to tell anyone. Not the way I'd like to go. Not the way I'd want anyone to go.
Maybe I wouldn't, but folks like Chapman? Sometimes, they'll admit they don't care. But it is interesting to see how the lethal cocktail includes a chemical intended to obfuscate what is happening. Of course, as the recent foul-up in Oklahoma demonstrates, it doesn't go over well when the supposed peace and quiet of a 'humane' execution goes awry. These people have good reason to want to hide what they're doing from us. They depend on the people's indifference, they need it. After all, lethal injections were dreamed up in response to some gory electrocutions. Every step along the way, when one method causes revulsion, supporters of the death penalty -- who want to keep killing -- seek out something else that looks a little better.
They've been backed into a corner on the methods, and support has been on the wane for a while now. But I wonder, if our society is forced by cases like the Oklahoma travesty to confront what it is we're doing to people, will this society put a stop to it? Or will it go the route of toleration; of the dastardly and contemptible.
Seems ironic that the conservatives, who seem to most revere those 'founding fathers,' so often fail to live up to -- or even acknowledge -- the principles those old revolutionaries fought for.