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Botched executions show there’s no such thing as humane capital punishment

Once again, a prisoner has died an unseemly death in the execution chambers of the United States of America. Facing a shortage of the drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection, the state of Oklahoma…

A lethal injection chamber in Texas. EPA/Paul Buck

Once again, a prisoner has died an unseemly death in the execution chambers of the United States of America. Facing a shortage of the drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection, the state of Oklahoma decided to experiment on a live human being – with disastrous results. After being subjected to treatment some described as torture, Clayton Lockett ultimately died of a heart attack.

This has sparked the usual calls for the abolition of capital punishment. It would be a grim irony indeed if the fate of the death penalty, like the fate of so many death row inmates, were sealed by a botched execution.

But of course, it might not be. After all, many supporters of capital punishment take the view that prisoners should suffer deaths as painful, if not more painful, than the deaths to which they subjected their victims. They are therefore unlikely to change their minds about capital punishment just because a murderer has suffered. Indeed, the briefest outline of Lockett’s crime makes it difficult to feel sympathy for him.

He was involved in a robbery that culminated in a young woman being buried alive, and was ultimately found guilty of 19 charges in all – including first degree murder, rape, forcible oral sodomy, and kidnapping. But the US Supreme Court has said we must not impose gratuitous and needless pain when executing those sentenced to death, indicating that we should not stoop to the moral level of those we have deemed fit to be killed. This, then, is the quandary that the highest court has set the nation: how do we kill a person humanely?

After turning our backs on hanging, and on electrocution, and on the gas chamber, and on firing squads, we are now struggling with a medical model of killing. Although lethal injections have the appearance of serenity and humanity, recent experiences have shown that they are not without their problems.

In an era of drone warfare and Google Glass, it seems bizarre that we do not have the technology to kill a person humanely. But the more bizarre thing is that we have set ourselves the task in the first place.

The death penalty supposedly serves several purposes, one of which is the expression of the community’s moral outrage at the perpetrator of a horrific crime. Is it really possible to kill a person humanely, while simultaneously expressing our outrage? Perhaps a violent and ugly death is the best way of expressing our anger at the perpetrator of the crime.

If this is true, states such as Oklahoma and Missouri cannot justify keeping their execution procedures secret. They should bring the death penalty out into the open so that the public can see justice being done in their name, and to send a clear statement to society that violent crimes will not be tolerated. Only then will the US fully join the company of its allies in capital punishment, the likes of North Korea and Iran.

But of course, if the US does not want to keep company with these states, then it should abolish capital punishment altogether.

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85 Comments sorted by

  1. Janeen Harris

    chef

    Why go ahead with the execution if there was a lack of the needed drug? Surely if we can put animals down peacefully a more sensible drug could have been used. It sounds very sloppy to me. Better to let them spend the rest of their lives in jail.

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  2. Ross Barrell

    Aikido Student

    Hmmm... I think death's too good for some people. Though there are a number of moral dilemmas here, not least of which encompasses the so called sanctity of and right to life of a first trimester embryo and simultaneously embraces state sanctioned murder on some citizens.

    Pentobarbital is a drug used for euthanasia in countries that permit it, though it is notable that the owner of the drug, Lundbeck won't permit its sale to American states that have the death penalty. The story is here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentobarbital

    My view is that state sanctioned execution is barbaric and lowers the state to the moral level of the prisoner - provided, of course that s/he is actually guilty.

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    1. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Ross Barrell

      Ross - indeed. It is a strange set of morals that says abortion is a sin, but the death penalty is entirely justified.
      In the Oklahoma case, there is no question the punishment was 'cruel and unusual' - in other words unconstitutional. Why the Governor is not in prison is beyond me.

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  3. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    Obviously it is technically possible to choose an appropriate combination of drugs or other technology to put a person to death reliably, painlessly, quickly, without suffering and without unreliable or unpredictable effects.

    Euthanasia advocates such as Philip Nitschke have spent a great deal of effort studying the best combinations of drugs or technologies to achieve this - although obviously they probably don't want anything to do with cooperation or enabling of capital punishment, as most…

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  4. Hugh McLachlan

    Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

    This article does not work as an argument against capital punishment even if a convincing case can be made. A central defect is that no comparison is made with other feasible punishments. For instance, any sort of imprisonment that would serve as an appropriate punishment might similarly be inhumane. To fail to punish a convict severely for the sort of crimes this man was convicted of would be outrageous. We must do something. What should we do?

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    1. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Hugh, to answer your question, hard labour till he/she passes away would be a start.
      I'm surprised some nation somewhere on the planet doesn't offer a permanent secure place for "life sentence with no parole" prisoners. Certainly the service could be provided for USD500 per month or less per person. And they could have cable TV to make it humane.
      The article was an argument against humane capital punishment.

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    2. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Strangely yes TV there. 4 hours TV is an incentive to be a good prisoner at Gitmo according to a Network Australia Foreign Correspondent doco yesterday, coincidentally.
      PNG prisons for asylum seekers, detained before reaching Australia, is pretty close to what I suggested. Not sure about the TV there.

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    3. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      'Hugh, to answer your question, hard labour till he/she passes away would be a start.
      I'm surprised some nation somewhere on the planet doesn't offer a permanent secure place for "life sentence with no parole" prisoners. Certainly the service could be provided for USD500 per month or less per person. And they could have cable TV to make it humane.'

      Hi, Colin. This sounds fair enough to me.

      'The article was an argument against humane capital punishment.'

      It does not succeed. The particular…

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    4. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Exactly.

      A poor article indeed.

      An article making an equally poor case FOR capital punishment wouldn't get published here.

      So why did this one?

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    5. Katey Bereny

      Resident Poodle

      In reply to John Crest

      well, I think if nothing else it succeeds in generating discussion regarding what is and is not an appropriate form of punishment (humane or otherwise). Perhaps that is its purpose?

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    6. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Katey Bereny

      There is no reason to generate discussion about capital punishment in Australia. It's simply not an issue for any political group here nor should it be. Amazing that the US are so behind the developed world on this one.

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    7. Katey Bereny

      Resident Poodle

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Well, irrespective of yours or my feelings about the death penalty, the ANU's 2007 Electoral survey found that 44% of respondents were in favour of a death penalty, and in 2010 Tony Abbott voiced an opinion that seemed to think that he was, in some circumstances, as well. Similarly, Howard stated (in relation to the Bali bombers) that if the death penalty "'is what the law of Indonesia provides, that is how things should proceed".

      http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/no-death-penalty-no-shades-of-grey-20100301-pdgo.html

      So it seems to be very relevant to, if nothing else, discuss capital punishment and its relevance, or irrelevance, to our current society.

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  5. Thomas Goodey

    Researcher

    Botched executions don't show anything of the sort. They merely show the abysmal incompetence of the authorities.

    It's not exactly rocket science. Execution by the firing squad or the guillotine is as humane as any such procedure can be - except for execution by a large overdose of heroin, which would be the absolute ideal.

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    1. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      I agree that there is no obvious reason to be no reason to believe that all forms of capital punishment are 'inhumane'. This particular execution would seem to have involved an experimental sort of lethal concoction. Hanging and shooting seem to be efficient enough ways of killing people. Furthermore, if our method of killing cattle would not be sufficiently humane as a way of killing people, we ought not to be using it on animals.

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    2. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      'Surely this is not an argument that the same standards of 'humane' treatment should b applied to humans and all animals'

      No - I would think that we should treat innocent animals who do not deserve to be killed at least as del asl or better than guilty human beings who do deserve to be executed.

      'Arguably killing someone is more inhumane than incarcerating them.'

      Yes, but, arguably, to imprison someone can be less humane than killing him.

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Arguably, it isn't.

      In any case, animals really have nothing to do with it.

      My personal opinion is that, if we are going to execute somebody, we ought to do it without causing him undue suffering during the dying process. That points to the firing squad, the guillotine, or a huge dose of heroin.

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    4. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Not hanging. To be humane, that requires quite a lot of delicacy, which the executioner can only acquire with practice. In any case, what's wrong with the firing squad or the guillotine? Most old people die much more unpleasant deaths than executions using those systems.

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    5. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Ah, but what about the guilty animals? Not all animals are innocent, you know!

      Of course animals have nothing whatever to do with the rights and wrongs of capital punishment.

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    6. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I have no doubt that some - very few, of course - people deserve to be executed although that in itself would not justify capital punishment. It would be a necessary but not a sufficient ground for such a justification. I do not advocate a return to capital punishment although I do not condemn all countries who presently have it.

      'Let us start deciding whether incarceration is less inhumane than execution by asking the people most directly affected. Surely most on death row would prefer to live, tho in goal.'

      This is an interesting way of looking at it. People in such circumstances might prefer their short term to their long term interests. In the long run, incarceration might be more barbaric in some cases even if convicts prefer the contemplation of a long time in jail to the contemplation of being killed. Furthermore, the convicts are not supposed to like it. Punishments are not supposed to be desirable.

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    7. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      ".....if capital punishment is adopted, I can see no particular objection to the firing squad..."

      So on what basis do you conclude that the firing squad is a humane form of execution? It can be fast - but alternatively it can be an extremely slow and excruciatingly painful form of death.

      But the simplest solution is the most obvious. No capital punishment. We have moved beyond the dark ages where state sanctioned murder was an acceptable form of punishment - not to mention the number of times the state executes innocent victims.

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    8. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      What is missing in these sorts of debates are questions of responsibility and the background of the criminal. I would argue that the relatively high rates of executions in the US, largely African Americans, reflects high rates of social inequality, inter generational poor parenting and so on.

      Capital punishment, by whatever means, seems to me more of an easy way out of the problems I mentioned rather than addressing the causes of crime.

      Jailing people is far preferable to my mind than state killing in an enlightened society.

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      And to be fair, jailing (partic in America ) is a far more profitable exercise than executions.

      Even in Australia it's a commercial success............more bang for your buck.

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    10. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      I agree with much of what you say here.However, in principle, punishment of people for breaking some particular laws is justifiable. In principle too, capital punishment might be justifiable in some few particular circumstances. Nonetheless, in practice there are problems - some very significant, some that are comparatively minor. (For instance, if a firing squad is incompetent and likely to fail to kill someone fairly quickly, fire the bullets from a closer range. In any case, if people are executed for, say, serial murders and rapes, it is not inappropriate that they suffer to some extent before they die.)

      Punishment of whatever sort cannot be expected to remove or even mitigate the causes of crime. There should be no choice between punishing criminals (were appropriate) and trying to reduce crimes. They are separate matters. We should do both. When it is justifiable, punishment can be justified only insofar as it is deserved by the culprit.

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    11. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      It is sophistry to call capital punishment state sanctioned murder. It might be morally wrong but, if so, it is wrong as capital punishment. If we fine someone for committing a crime, this is not 'state sanctioned theft'. If we imprison someone for committing a crime, this is not 'state sanctioned kidnap'.

      I would be very surprised if a competent firing squad could not kill someone fairly quickly but am open to advice and correction from any informed sources.

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    12. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      "....It is sophistry to call capital punishment state sanctioned murder...."

      So what do you call it when the government of North Korea executes someone for criticising the 'dear leader'? Do you think that is acceptable?

      Or is it ok for the state to execute someone as long as you agree with the punishable offense? You see Hugh, that's the problem isn't it? Where is the line on what constitutes an offense for which someone can be executed? Obviously if it is the state which is going to do the killing, then I guess it is up to the state isn't it? And by your argument, it isn't state sponsored murder at all.

      And your own analogy fails the basic test of common sense. If we fine someone but later find out they were innocent, or if we put someone in gaol and they are later exonerated, we can make recommence. Pretty hard to do that once you've killed them.

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    13. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      It is important to distinguish types of homicide: deliberate or accidental, and lawful or unlawful. If a recognised government authorises homicide it is not murder by definition.

      The Government of North Korea may be undemocratic and even totalitarian. But it is generally recognised as the government of North Korea. Its laws or procedures may be objectionable and oppressive, but if a person is killed in accordance with those laws or procedures it is an execution, not murder, however unjust it may be.

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    14. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      '"....It is sophistry to call capital punishment state sanctioned murder...."

      So what do you call it when the government of North Korea executes someone for criticising the 'dear leader'? Do you think that is acceptable?'

      I think it is totally unacceptable if a government executes someone for criticising their leader. It is morally extremely wrong. I would call it morally unjustifiable judicial execution for an action that should not be a crime.

      'And your own analogy fails the basic test…

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    15. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      "....It is morally extremely wrong. I would call it morally unjustifiable judicial execution for an action that should not be a crime...."

      By whose definition is it 'morally wrong'? Morals are not absolute, and you are using your own definition of what is morally right and wrong - others would disagree. Are your morals better? Are you not acting in a morally incorrect manner by suggesting that your morals should hold sway, and that the morals of others are less 'moral'?

      The same goes for…

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    16. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      'You might think that the laws of a different state are immoral or wrong, but I am sure there are plenty of people and states who think that the laws and culture of your own country are morally wrong.'

      I agree that many of the laws of my own country - the UK no less that Scotland - are unwise and some of them are unethical. I do not say that other counties and cultures and wrong and mine is right. I certainly do not claim to be morally better than those I might, in some matters, disagree with. Other people (of whatever backgrounds and cultures) will agree with my moral judgements. Others will disagree. It does not follow that neither side is correct although there is no agreed way to settle the truth of moral claims. There is similarly no agreed way to settle aesthetic disputes but it does not follow that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'.

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    17. Pythinia Preston

      writer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Your using very emotive language there, heinous crimes against innocent folk, don't appear to interest you, only the 100 percent surety of the guilty will do. 'Yet we still get it wrong' you are dismissing the work of many careers here in bringing the guilty to justice just to appease your sense of 'righteousness'

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    18. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Pythinia Preston

      "heinous crimes against innocent folk, don't appear to interest you"

      Sorry, where did he say that?

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    19. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      "If we fine someone for committing a crime, this is not 'state sanctioned theft'. If we imprison someone for committing a crime, this is not 'state sanctioned kidnap'."

      I don't see why those two examples you gave could in fact be the case. I'm surprised to see a professor of philosophy putting that argument forward.

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    20. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Pythinia Preston

      "....Your using very emotive language there, heinous crimes against innocent folk,..."

      The irony of you criticising me for using emotive language, and in the same sentence using the terms 'heinous crimes' and 'innocent folks' is not lost on me Pythinia. I have to wonder if you are even aware of it yourself.

      And I have to ask you, would you be concerned about an innocent person being executed? I know I am.

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    21. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Katey Bereny

      Presumably, because that method of execution would not feel unpleasant to its victim; indeed, it would be very pleasurable.

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    22. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to John Perry

      Hi, John. You do not make it sufficiently clear what your objection to my position is in order for me to make a useful response of any sort - whether an elaboration or a retraction of my argument.

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    23. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      I mean, Hugh, that you said "If we imprison someone for committing a crime, this is not 'state sanctioned kidnap'"; yet I'm sure Foucault and others would be inclined to suggest that actually, yes it could be defined that way.

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    24. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to John Perry

      In some respects, for the state to, say, fine someone is like stealing. It might in some instances be morally as bad as stealing. However, it is not stealing. As Robert Burns might have said 'my love is like a red, red rose'. That does not mean that it is a rose. Murder, theft and kidnap are crimes. They are against what have been enacted as laws. It is not against the law for the state to execute, fine or imprison people for breaking particular laws. State sanctioned theft and kidnap would occur when agents or agencies of the state in their capacities as such stole from people or kidnapped them contrary to the law.

      That Foucault could be quoted as seeming to deny what I say here is not something I would doubt.

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    25. Hugh McLachlan

      Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

      In reply to John Perry

      … We can unpack an untrue but rhetorically powerful statement such as 'Property is theft' (Proudhon) to make the true claim that legal justice is not the same as moral justice.

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    26. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Agreed. A significant number of humans believe the exploitation of animals is morally acceptable since they assert that animals do not exist in the mental dimension.

      The practice of exploitation of the defenceless epitomizes human supremacy and is witnessed in acts of murder, rape and torture.

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    27. John Wegner

      Tomahawk Juggler

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Yes, one Mr. Wallace Wilkerson was executed by firing squad in the U.S. (Utah). He moved just as the firing squad fired; they missed all of his vitals; it took him 27 minutes to bleed out.

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  6. Charles Sifers

    COE StillWind Creations

    Clearly, things are going as planned... Extremists have used their minions to effect the restriction of effective pharmaceuticals, and now that they have, they are moving to the next phase.
    Meanwhile, the dumb masses are "shocked" at the result.
    Satan is laughing with delight.

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Charles Sifers

      That's quite true - it's all a cunning plot, which is working.

      The CP States need merely switch to execution by firing squad. Europe can't very well refuse to sell cartridges!

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    2. Mike Jubow

      Forestry nurseryman at Nunyara Wholesale , Forestry consultants, seedling suppliers.

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Thomas, it doesn't even need a firing squad. It only needs a small calibre, high velocity soft-nose projectile fired from cartridge like a .243 or similar to the centre of the head. One shot and all over!

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    3. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Perhaps then we should also introduce capital punishment for white collar crime? You know, where the crime consists of defrauding thousands of people.

      That would concentrate the minds of those calling for capital punishment. Currently in the US it is mainly poor blacks who receive the ultimate punishment, while some sections of society get away with much more lenient penalties.

      By the way I am not seriously suggesting white collar crimes could attract capital punishment, merely trying, probably awkwardly, to highlight some social inequities and some hypocrisy.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      I'd seriously suggest it .......Madoff and so many others deserve a long slow death - call me old fashioned.

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    5. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I can understand your views and I become outraged by the sheer scale of the crimes of the likes of Madoff and the impact on vulnerable people.

      There is no crime like corporate crime, in its numerical impact and the capacity to ruin lives.

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    6. Katey Bereny

      Resident Poodle

      In reply to John Phillip

      Is it though? If there is a preponderance of people from a particular socio economic/cultural background committing crimes, and a society was actually dedicated to reducing the rate of crime (which, presumably, is the whole point of punishment) then surely their socio-economic/cultural background is entirely relevant?

      Further, and it is raised elsewhere, I think the type of crime is relevant - that is, white collar crime (defrauding thousands of people of millions of dollars, for example) is…

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    7. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      "....That's why, Mike, you hold the muzzle against the temple before squeezing the trigger. With a small calibre round, death will be instantaneous and splashback will be minimal...."

      Doesn't always work out that way John - that's why we don't do it.

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    8. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Katey Bereny

      The socio-economic background of the criminal is indeed relevant to those who formulate social policy and criminal policy, but it cannot be allowed to be relevant to those who actually implement it. To put it crudely, black people or poor people are not to be allowed to murder at will, nor to set fire to buildings at will. To quote from a famous document: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." The rule of law should follow this principle.

      I point out that in China not only violent criminals, but also economic criminals, are often executed with a single bullet to the head - a method urged by some commentators here. Moreover, the cost of the cartridge is charged to the estate of the deceased.

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    9. Katey Bereny

      Resident Poodle

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Yes, absolutely. It's not relevant at the end point (pun probably intended) but at some point in the process it has relevance -- that is, as lawmakers, if deterrence is your objective (and it should be) then it should certainly the question must come up.

      Regarding China, I was of the understanding that shootings were phased out in favour of lethal injection (deemed to be 'more humane'), and delivered via a mobile 'death unit'.

      Having said all of this, however, I'm still not convinced that the death penalty is a fitting punishment. To use the example of China, the country has drawn criticism from human rights groups for the high number of crimes punishable via the death penalty - not just violent and economic crimes, but also non-violent crimes as well.

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    10. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Katey Bereny

      Katey, I think the difference between murdering someone and ripping them off is quite clear and distinct. To believe otherwise is a leap too far for even my level of moral relativism. A brutal murder is a brutal murder regardless of the background of the criminal.

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    11. Katey Bereny

      Resident Poodle

      In reply to John Phillip

      Oh I'm not suggesting they're analogous by any measure - as you said, a brutal murder is a brutal murder. However, the parallel was drawn elsewhere in the comments, and I think it is interesting, if nothing else.

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    12. John Wegner

      Tomahawk Juggler

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      There are many cases of "a bullet to the head" where the victim survived. Mostly handgun wounds. Obviously all hitting non-life-sustaining areas. Obviously of low enough velocity to not cause an exit wound of devastating dimensions. However, I submit that there are zero cases of a high velocity .223 hollow point round to the head, entering straight in from the front at a point right at or slightly below the bridge of the nose. The hydrostatic shock alone would turn the cerebral brain area to jello and tear on through the cerebellum, blowing out the back of the head and carrying a substantial amount of the jello with it. If you're afraid of the tiny bullet wandering around once in a thousand executions, then move up to a larger slug. If one wants to be ridiculous, one could propose a 12 ga shotgun with a 1oz slug -- or a .50 cal BMG (although both of those methods could possibly remove the entire head at close range. Gross enough?

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  7. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Having though about it, the phrase "humane capital punishment" is an oxymoron. In fact bizarre.

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  8. Bharat Malkani

    Lecturer, Birmingham Law School at University of Birmingham

    Thanks everyone for your comments - they're very interesting and have given me much food for thought. My argument, just to be clear, is that after centuries of trying, we still haven't come up with a method of execution that is palatable. Even if there are methods that are humane in the abstract, we simply haven't been able to find people willing to carry out those types of executions in practice (doctors and other medical personnel who refuse to take part in executions, for example). Another example can be found from Sri Lanka: http://www.thewire.com/global/2014/03/sri-lanka-cant-find-official-executioner/359115/

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Bharat Malkani

      Yes, we have. The guillotine, the firing squad, and heroin overdose. Of course it depends upon the delicacy of your palate!

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    2. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      One must also consider the effects of the execution on he executioner. I suggest that executions brutalise executioners. Since firing squads involve multiple executioners they are less humane than the guillotine which has only 1 direct executioner.

      Indeed, it would be possible to build a guillotine that could be operated by the condemned. One could let the condemned into a yard with a guillotine and tell them that they may execute themself at any time of their choosing within the next 12 hours…

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      What you say is true to some extent, but the brutalizing effect depends upon the mental attitude and the spiritual development of the executioners, of course. We could theoretically conceive of a highly evolved executioner who could perform the entire process with love and compassion. One presumes his motive would be to spare a less advanced person the mental trauma of doing the act himself.

      Actually, the cartridges given to a firing squad traditionally include one blank cartridge, for precisely…

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    4. Dr James Treadwell

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Bharat Malkani

      Well done Bharat, this piece has certainly has got people thinking and talking and there are some interesting opinions.

      The BBC ran an interesting Horizon programme several years ago where they nearly killed former conservative politician Michael Portillo (that was not the only reason that it was interesting). In it he went looking for alternatives to lethal injection he travelled to a military base in the Netherlands to research the effects of oxygen starvation (technically known as hypoxia…

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  9. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    "Botched executions show there’s no such thing as humane capital punishment "

    Rubbish.

    Should've read:

    "Botched execution shows one instance of capital punishment wasn't humane."

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    1. Bharat Malkani

      Lecturer, Birmingham Law School at University of Birmingham

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      There's a whole book on the history of botched executions (plural), and so I stick by my assertion that we've still not found a method of execution that is, or can be, always administered humanely. Here's a link to an article by the author of said book that outlines the book (I just found this article, but it's basically a much better version of my piece):

      http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/04/27/what-botched-executions-tell-about-death-penalty/n857QsoDKDLN7fdNB6fimO/story.html

      If you want to buy the book, click here: http://sup.org/book.cgi?id=23979

      I imagine you might express concern with the "low" percentage of botched executions - but note that it has been SUPPORTERS of capital punishment who have felt compelled to change methods of execution. It has been SUPPORTERS of the death penalty who have decried hanging, and gassing etc as inhumane. So I do not accept the claim that this is "mere propaganda."

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    2. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Bharat Malkani

      What's the fact that there's a WHOLE (!) book on botched executions got to do with the fact that we have actually found several ways to perform executions humanely (which ways we do not practice very often)? Absolutely nothing. What kind of a feeble argument is that? Obviously one made from the point of view of pushing a particular argument. Which is propaganda.

      I note that you have made no effort whatever to controvert the point repeatedly made here, that execution by guillotine, by firing squad, or by heroin overdose would be perfectly humane. Ignoring telling arguments made by opponents because you have no effective counter-argument is a sure mark of a propagandist.

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    3. Bharat Malkani

      Lecturer, Birmingham Law School at University of Birmingham

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Dear Mr Goodey, my apologies - that comment was a reply to John Crest (the comment above yours). Mr Crest suggested that the title of my piece should be changed to refer to "botched execution" in the singular, and so I was merely pointing out that there have been many botched executions in the past, as illustrated in Austin Sarat's book.

      However, I still disagree with your contention that we have found several humane methods of execution. The evidence shows that many supporters of capital punishment…

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  10. tricia o`mahoney

    retired

    I have yet to read here about the victim and the appalling way she was killed. These sub humans buried her ALIVE and this discussion is all about humanely killing the barbarian who killed her. Rape, forced sodomy, kidnapping and murder? I have no sympathy whatsoever for this animal and how he was killed. I have every sympathy for the VICTIM who seems to have been sidelined because this low life suffered in death. I very much doubt if he suffered as much as his victim and her family.

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  11. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    Offer the offender a choice, something they denied their victim. For particularly vicious murderers, offer them twenty five years in isolation with no parole or a dose of Nembutal to end their life painlessly.

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  12. Hugh McLachlan

    Professor of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University

    I no one particular method of execution is reliable, why rely on only one? Why not have a plan B, C, D …etc. It seem absurd that the authorities allow those who are not executed quickly to linger long alive. Why do they not immediately try some other method? Why do they not use different methods simultaneously in the first place?

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    1. John Wegner

      Tomahawk Juggler

      In reply to Hugh McLachlan

      Absolutely. And if they're squeamish about the coup de grâce bullet from a side arm, then have a captive bolt pistol right there to knock their lights out while the "whatever" method takes its sweet time to work.

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