Damage done by the needle

A halt on lethal injection shows the nation’s hypocrisy toward capital punishment.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared a de facto moratorium on the death penalty out of concerns that the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injection might be cruel and unusual punishment, and thus, unconstitutional. The procedure in question is supposed to do three things. First, knock the condemned out, second, paralyze him so he doesn’t move, and third, inject a chemical that stops the heart. If the first fails, then the convicted is awake as his organs shut down. If the second fails, he might be in pain as the drugs take their hold. And sometimes the third step, which actually kills the condemned, misses a vein as it did in a Florida man executed in 2006. He sustained foot-long chemical burns on both his arms and took 34 minutes to die. It can hardly be denied that this is cruel and unusual.

The American public approves of the death penalty by a margin of 2-1, even though it has been proven for years that it fails as a deterrent, is racially biased, and according to the Judicial Conference of the United States, can cost four times more in tax dollars to prosecute than a case not seeking the death penalty. The only purpose that it serves is fulfilling a desire for vengeance for the condemned’s crime.

Lethal injection, with its veneer of sterility and medical professionalism, has been the preferred method in every state but Nebraska, which still uses the electric chair. But this process, which clearly can and has been cruel and unusual, seems more to spare the conscience of witnesses than ensure a quick and relatively painless death for the condemned. Apparently we want the death penalty, but we want palatable death without the discomfort of seeing blood.

The Supreme Court will probably rule that some kind of alteration needs to be made to the three-drug cocktail, but leave the overall constitutionality of capital punishment unquestioned. There is nothing proper about the death penalty, but if we as a nation want to use it, we should try to do it properly. It is hypocritical to embrace a method that spares us the truth by making killing look more civilized than it is.