Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Killing me reasonably

The US Supreme court is hearing arguments (1) against the use of lethal injection as a means of capital punishment. The argument is that lethal injection is unconsitutional on the grounds that it is a cruel and unusual punishment:

Attorneys for two death row inmates in the eastern state of Kentucky argue that
lethal injections can cause unnecessary pain and suffering.

The three-drug cocktail injection that Kentucky uses for executions has one drug to make the prisoner unconscious, another to paralyze the body and a third to stop the heart.

Opponents to the method argue that if the first drug does not work, the inmate would not be able to move but would feel excruciating pain.

Executions in the United States have come to a halt until the court issues its ruling, expected by June. (2)

The idea that there are more benevolent ways to kill people, more in keeping with legal niceties, is bizzare to me. It is the killing, not the cruelty, that is wrong. I'm reminded of the Monty Python Piranha brothers sketch:

Presenter: Another man who had his head nailed to the floor was Stig O' Tracey.
[Cut to another younger more cheerful man on sofa.]
Interviewer: Stig, I've been told Dinsdale Piranha nailed your head to the floor.
Stig: No, no. Never, never. He was a smashing bloke. He used to give his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me.
Interviewer: But the police have film of Dinsdale actually nailing your head to the floor.
Stig: Oh yeah, well - he did that, yeah.
Interviewer: Why?
Stig: Well he had to, didn't he? I mean, be fair, there was nothing else he could do. I mean, I had transgressed the unwritten law.
Interviewer: What had you done?
Stig: Er... Well he never told me that. But he gave me his word that it was the case, and that's good enough for me with old Dinsy. I mean, he didn't want to nail my head to the floor. I had to insist. He wanted to let me off. There's nothing Dinsdale wouldn't do for you.
Interviewer: And you don't bear him any grudge?
Stig: A grudge! Old Dinsy? He was a real darling.
Interviewer: I understand he also nailed your wife's head to a coffee table. Isn't that right Mrs O' Tracey?
[Camera pans to show woman with coffee table nailed to head.]
Mrs O' Tracey:
Oh, no. No. No.
Stig: Yeah, well, he did do that. Yeah, yeah. He was a cruel man, but fair.
[Cut back to Vince.]
Vince, after he nailed your head to the floor, did you ever see him again?
Vince: Yeah.....after that I used to go round his flat every Sunday lunchtime to apologize and we'd shake hands and then he'd nail my head to the floor.
Interviewer: Every Sunday?
Vince: Yeah but he was very reasonable about it. (3)
Dinsdale might have been very reasonable. There might be very constitutional means of killing people. But nailing people's heads to coffee tables, however reasonably it is done, and killing people, no matter how much legal balm is applied to the consciences of those ordering the killing, is always cruel and barbaric and something no civilised society can accept.
1 - 'US Supreme Court Considers Arguments Against Lethal Injection,' unattributed VOA News article, 7th of January, 2007. (http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-01-07-voa32.cfm)
2 - ibid.
3 - 'The Piranha Brothers' sketch, Episode 14 of Monty Python's Flying Cricus. Transcript here:

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