Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Humane Way to Execute People?

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca‚ Jan. 07‚ 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing arguments this week in a Kentucky case that is challenging lethal injections as inhumane. As if there’s a humane way to execute someone.

If the justices decide in favor of the two death row inmates who filed the suit (a decision is not expected until June), the 35 states that presently use that method could be forced to stop injecting lethal doses which reportedly can inflict tremendous pain on those being executed. Unfortunately, a thumbs-down in this case from the high court justices won’t bring down the death penalty. States will just switch to some other killing method.

Even the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision, in which the Supreme Court basically voided nearly all 40 existing state death penalty laws, didn’t halt the executions for very long. Led by Florida, 34 legislatures immediately enacted new death penalty regulations. In 1976, the Supreme Court brought back the death sentence.

The U.S. is standing behind a barbaric tradition that has fallen out of favor in most of the world. According to Amnesty International, the majority of nations (133 of 197) have stopped the death penalty either by law or by practice. The reason is simple: Not only is it morally reprehensible and more often than not directed against the working-class and poor, it has also never been proven effective in deterring crime. Even police chiefs, when asked about methods for the reduction of violent crime, listed the death penalty as the least effective.

The death penalty is irreversible. If a person is falsely convicted and later found to be innocent (such as through DNA evidence), it’s too late: He’s already dead.

Nearly 91% of executions in 2006 were in just a few countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and the U.S.

Ironically, China has just announced that it’s making its killings more “humane:” Instead of shooting its prisoners in the head (and, believe it or not, charging their families for the bullet), the Chinese government will now use lethal injection.

China isn’t the only one thinking about the death penalty. The United Nations General Assembly just weighed in on the issue again. In a resolution that is of course not binding on any nation, it recently called on “each member state” to “open a debate on the death penalty.” The resolution was opposed by both China and the U.S. and supported by the majority of member countries which do not have death penalties.

Here at home, New Jersey became the latest state to eliminate its death penalty. To date, there are 14 states without capital punishment, among them, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine and Rhode Island.

It’s not even half the states, but it’s better than none at all.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical southern Italian atheist with a queer agenda and a website:

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