The death penalty is an outdated practice rapidly falling into decline only increasing in its brutality.
Most of the industrialized world has abolished the death penalty, leaving the U.S, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan as the exceptions. The European Union (EU) specifically attempts to inhibit the these countries, including the U.S, from continuing the practice. All of Europe, sans Belarus, the commonly characterized dictatorship, has banned capital punishment. The EU has long championed for human rights, but they’re actually hurting more in the short term than they are helping more in the long term.
In an effort to terminate the death penalty in the United States, the EU “specifically blocks the export of drugs that could potentially be used in executions”. Hospira, drug company that manufactures certain drugs that can be used for lethal injections, was pressured into halting their production because the U.S was using their products for the sinister practice. Similar companies have followed suit, either for ethical reasons or similar pressures.
With such restrictions in place, U.S executioners are forced to turn to other drugs that aren’t exactly meant for euthanization. Of course, any drug has the potential to kill a person, even Advil. But using alternative drugs, like Advil hypothetically, can be infinitely more painful than a drug actually meant for lethal intake. Perhaps euthanized isn’t the right word. Euthanized is defined as “putting (a living being, especially a dog or cat) to death humanely”. Too often, lethal injection, the most common form of euthanization, goes wrong and results in extreme pain for the individual.
In some cases, death penalty states have gone to Midazolam, a very common drug that cannot be denied to the U.S because of its other medicinal properties. Midazolam is not a strong sedative and can easily change its property, making it harder to keep in liquid form and otherwise IV capable. In other words, it is not the best drug for lethal injections.
Barbiturates are the type of drugs meant to be used in executions. They act as an anesthesia and central nervous system depressant, making them the best candidate for sedation. Usually lethal injection is a threefold process in order to make it as humane as possible. First the victim is given a general anesthetic that can render unconsciousness in under a minute. Then a muscle relaxant is administered that basically causes paralysis. Finally Potassium Chloride: the drug that stops the heart.
In theory this is supposed to last under seven minutes, but it is no longer uncommon for it to last longer. More than a few procedures lasting nearly two hours have occurred. Lethal injection has the highest percentage of botched executions in comparison to other methods of execution.
National Public Radio (NPR) wrote about one case of botched execution with the help of Michael Kiefer, a reporter for the Arizona Republic. Kiefer has witnessed multiple executions and was present at a man named Joseph Wood’s execution. The prison was using a different cocktail of lethal drugs for the first time.
‘"Everything seemed to go smoothly." Kiefer said to NPR. "It looked like executions I'd seen before using thiopental and pentobarbital."
Everything was occurring per normal up until the six minute mark. Wood had begun to gasp repeatedly. The spectators were alarmed.
The executioner eventually came out, turned on the death chamber microphone, and tried to reassure everyone that Wood was asleep, and everything was normal. But Kiefer says the sounds emanating from the condemned man were only amplified behind the executioner's voice, adding everyone's distress. An hour passed with Wood still conscious.
"We looked at each other; you could see the alarm on the faces of the prison personnel," Kiefer says. "Nobody said anything.”
Arizona's new drug formula — 50 milligrams of midazolam, a sedative, and 50 milligrams of hydromorphone, a narcotic — was supposed to be a lethal dose. Obviously it wasn't, so the executioner gave Wood a second dose. And then a third, a fourth, a fifth and so on, and then, mercifully, on the 15th dose, Wood passed. It had taken nearly two hours.’
Two hours to die in a supposedly humane process. There are several similar accounts of this horrifying experience.
And the United States had placed moratoriums before. Support for the death penalty has been declining in the current social climate, just as it did in the 1960s. A period of ten years passed with no executions by order of the Supreme Court, ending with Gary Gilmore’s execution by firing squad in 1977. The death penalty has received spikes in popularity usually around great tragedies such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing, but overall, in the last decade the U.S has been considering life imprisonment over execution.
In an alternative argument: Innocent people have been put on death row and euthanized, only for new information to emerge, and their posthumous exoneration to occur. Is it worth the death of innocent people to catch the few that ‘deserve it’?
According to a study done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 1 in 25 people are wrongfully put to death. It is impossible to know the exact percentage, but the estimate is staggering.
The Innocence Project works tirelessly to free inmates on death row or otherwise. Most popularly would be the case of Adnan Saad. His case was reviewed by millions of people on the podcast Serial, gaining enough attention for the innocence project to take him on. His case is currently up for review after nearly twenty years.
According to the Innocence Project:
In the words of William Blackstone, an English jurist from 1760, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
His statement, although old, still holds merit in today’s day and age. The death penalty is outdated and is doing more harm than good. With inhumane deaths and innocents wrongly executed, it calls into question: What right does the U.S have to determine whether a man lives or dies?