A while back I wrote a diary about my friend Doc who is a veterinarian. A routine part of his job is euthanizing animals. Being a compassionate and sensitive fellow, this routine is never routine to Doc. It weighs heavily on him every time he does it. And he never does it unless it is in the animal's best interest. In fact, he has lost many clients because he has taken them to task for being too eager to have their animal killed. And when he does it, he does not sugar coat it. He calls it what it is, "killing".
Me: "How you doin', Doc?"
Doc: "Shitty. I killed a dog today."
Me: "What? What happened?"
Doc: "17 years old, renal failure, couldn't stand anymore."
Me: "But you had to [blah, blah, blah]"
Doc: "I still feel shitty."
As everyone knows, recently Clayton Lockett famously died as a result of what is being called a "botched" execution in Oklahoma. Apparently the lethal injection cocktail used in the botched execution brought about more suffering in Lockett than was intended. This has sparked (and come on the heels of) much hand wringing about executions in America -- specifically, how governments do it on the behalf of you and me.
Like with many folks out there this event sparked a lot of questions in my mind and it seems like there is little in the way of thoughtful and nuanced discussion with regard to this event. I'd like to throw out here a couple of victuals to chew on which I think would be helpful to this community when discussing this issue in particular and executions in general. Doc was helpful with some of the technical stuff.
First, it must be acknowledged that Lockett committed a horrific crime. Amazing that in all the stuff I've read about this it is never mentioned that Stephanie Nieman was brutally murdered by Clayton Lockett in an awful way. Yes, Clayton Lockett died from a botched execution that caused him pain and suffering. He was a murderer. There is no question about it.
But I want to set aside the question of whether the death penalty is right or wrong for a minute here and go to a question about the lethal injection itself. For this technical question I turned to Doc who uses lethal injections regularly on animals that are anatomically analogous to humans. He does it skillfully and with little difficulty -- except to his own spirit.
I ask Doc if he can do this so easily and successfully and with no drama in his little clinic or on house calls, why do the machinations of entire state governments having such a difficult time doing it to people? Doc reiterates what I've read about MDs not wanting to violate the Hippocratic oath and apply their training to such an act so the most well trained needle wielders are hard to come by. This prompts the question of what about all the RNs and EMTs and blood bank workers who have the ability to do this. When was the last time an MD actually gave me a shot? I have no memory of anyone other than a nurse or a phlebotomist every taking a needle to me. You don't need an MD to tap a vessel.
Then Doc also mentions that the drugs used for executions come from Europe and there is an embargo on exporting them to the US for philosophical/moral reasons. Executioners have had to find replacement drugs to do the job and they are not the best and first choice.
So I ask Doc whether the drugs used so successfully in his clinic would not work on humans and he says they would work fine. He uses a morphine-like sedative first to relax the animal. Then he uses phenobarbital which makes the animal unconscious then stops the heart followed by Dilantin which makes the blood pressure fall. And it takes about two minutes. But Doc clarifies that he has no way of knowing whether the animal suffers any pain.
These drugs are easily available in all 50 states. And they would have the same effect on humans that they have on animals (dosage adjusted for size).
A further factor making lethal injection prone to botching is that they use a machine to inject the drug. This is done to distance the executioner from the prisoner. The application rate may be mechanical but that does not mean it is better. There may be need for nuance when injecting that a machine can not achieve.
Doc is against the death penalty. He cites one reason: free-will does not exist. So a person ought not be responsible for his or her actions or inactions.
I share Doc's opposition to the death penalty but for different reasons (while much of anyone's actions and inactions are determined outside of themselves they must still bear some responsibility). My opposition stems from, believe it or not, a report I gave on the death penalty way back in elementary school.
I started that assignment in favor of the death penalty but in my research (as much as an elementary kid can do) I learned that the death penalty does not deter crime, it is applied in a racist manner, wrongful convictions are common, it is not cost effective and it is just bad karma. Plus, my faith leads me to opposing it.
As horrific a crime as Lockett committed, I am glad that he would not have gotten the death penalty in my state. It is a source of shame to me that the death penalty exists in this country in this day and age. I hope we can get rid of it soon. Perhaps Lockett's case will lead towards that end.