The Futile Quest

Ever since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 after a four year hiatus, there’s been a bizarre and sick attempt to find a  “humane” way to execute prisoners. The latest has popped up (where else?) in Oklahoma. They had to change their method after a botched execution lat year. The latest method is our old acquaintance, gas, but a different variety, which is being called “foolproof” by the idiot Governor of Oklahoma:

Oklahoma became the first US state to approve nitrogen gas for executions under a measure Governor Mary Fallin signed into law Friday that provides an alternative death penalty method if lethal injections aren’t possible, either because of a court ruling or a drug shortage.

Executions are on hold in Oklahoma while the US supreme court considers whether the state’s current three-drug method of lethal injection is constitutional. Supporters of the new law maintain nitrogen-induced hypoxia is a humane and painless method of execution that requires no medical expertise to perform.

“Oklahoma executes murderers whose crimes are especially heinous,” Fallin said in a statement announcing that she had signed the bill into law.

“I support that policy, and I believe capital punishment must be performed effectively and without cruelty. The bill I signed today gives the state of Oklahoma another death penalty option that meets that standard.”

There it is: the futile quest. There is NO WAY to humanely kill a human being. Any method is inherently cruel but depressingly usual. There seems to be no proof that this method will work quickly and humanely. It hasn’t been tested on lab rats or even on rattlesnakes or some other varmint native to the state. The first use will be on death row prisoners. This is shockingly casual even for a bloodthirsty state like Oklahoma.

The states in the death belt have spent years assuring us that lethal injections were not cruel but there’s mounting evidence to the contrary. They’ve argued that they’re more humane than the electric chair, gas chamber, or hanging. Lethal injections aren’t humane, they’re simply more sanitized than previous methods. In the context of capital punishment, humane = quick. The only quick methods of state sponsored murder than I can think of are the guillotine or firing squad. The first method conjures up images of Madame DeFarge kniting her way through beheadings and the second is only currently used by the state of Utah. I think the Beehive state is on to something: a bullet to the chest or head may be barbaric but it’s quick.

The only way around the futile quest is, of course, abolition of the death penalty but that’s not going to happen in the benighted states that populate the death belt. They’ll continue seeking an allegedly non-cruel and humane method of killing people until the Supreme Court does what it did in 1972 and declares it unconstitutional, which is a futile quest in and of itself.

2 thoughts on “The Futile Quest

  1. David Evans says:

    Contrary to what you suggest there is experience of this method in a number of species and (as a means of voluntary euthanasia) in humans. Not, admittedly, in lab rats.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inert_gas_asphyxiation

  2. JohnnyD says:

    Oh, I suspect nitrogen gas will work just fine. I personally would have gone with something heavier-than-air, like argon, just to be sure all breathable air is displaced, but I think that might be overkill, for lack of a better word. Since nitrogen would displace all breathable air, the condemned would simply pass out from lack of oxygen, without smelling anything out of the ordinary. After ten minutes or so without oxygen, most any human would be brain-dead.

    This IS a painless way to die, and thus a “humane” way to perform an execution. A person is completely unaware anything odd is happening until just moments before they lapse into unconsciousness. That’s if they notice at all. After that, it’s simply a matter of the time required to extinguish any life signs in the individual, who at this point no longer is paying attention. There is no way to screw up an execution using this method, and it causes no undue pain or suffering whatsoever if applied properly.

    I am not endorsing the death penalty, by the way, just making a comment on the suitability of the method suggested in fulfilling the intended purpose. I think this is a good idea, IF WE MUST CONTINUE TO EXECUTE PRISONERS. Which I don’t consider a good idea to begin with, but that’s another matter.

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