renowned for producing brilliant innovative scientists, who invented the
telephone, sent men to the moon, and created the internet, is grappling with a
problem it doesn’t seem able to solve: how to kill people legally.
arises because the manufacturers of certain drugs used to dispose of convicted
murderers now refuse to sell them for that purpose. As a result, or so it has been reported, at
least one execution has been botched by the use of alternative drugs that were
either inadequate to the task or were incompetently administered. One ‘incident’, the execution by lethal
injection of Denis McGuire in Ohio,
was widely reported because the prisoner, according to witnesses, writhed, gasped
for breath and coughed for 26 minutes before breathing his last. In a second case, in Oklahoma, a condemned man, Michael Lee
Wilson, cried out as the drugs entered his bloodstream, “I feel my whole body
is not my purpose here to revive the debate about the death penalty – to which,
for the record, I have always been opposed – but to wonder about a society that
finds such situations not macabre or demeaning, but merely a technical setback
easily resolved by reverting to more traditional methods.
Brattin, a Republican state representative from Missouri, has called for a reversion to the
firing squad in state executions. He has
received support from a number of state legislators around the country. Many Americans feel this is a perfectly
took a moment to check what alternative methods the states employ to despatch
their condemned. In a handful the firing
squad is already mandated. Others variously
favour hanging, the gas chamber and the electric chair. Some offer prisoners a choice of death. Jolly decent of them, I say.
majority of Americans favour the death penalty.
This is hardly unaccountable; so do most people in this country, which
did away with gallows back in the 1960s.
Abolition followed the hue and cry that accompanied the executions of
Derek Bentley, a retarded man who was under arrest at the time his accomplice
in a robbery fired the shot that killed a policeman (the famous “Let him have
it, Chris” case) and of Timothy Evans, who was hanged for killing his wife in
the same house in which several murders had been committed by his landlord,
John Christie, who was also hanged.
a recent television programme, several residents of Huntsville,
Texas – by numbers the execution capital of America –
seriously proposed that the method of execution should match that employed in
the crime. So, an axe murderer would
himself be chopped to death. By who,
they didn’t specify – presumably by a member of the victim’s family. And why not on television, while we’re at it?
French came up with the most humane means of lawful killing, at least to
date. The guillotine that separates a
person from his head is, albeit a little messy, both swift and sure. China, which executes more
prisoners than every other country combined, is content with a bullet to the back
of the head. Perhaps Representative Brattin would go for that.
would it provide sufficient spectacle for those baying not for blood but for
once wrote of America’s
Puritans, that they “hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear,
but because it gave pleasure to the spectators”.
America, which claims to be the world’s most
Christian country, seems to have regressed since then.