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firing squads or lethal injections?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 09, 2010

The public statement by Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, objecting to a firing-squad execution in Utah, caught my attention because it raises a question that has often troubled me. 

Set aside, for the moment, the arguments for the abolition of capital punishment. If the state is going to execute criminals for certain heinous crimes, how should the death sentence be administered?

Personally, I find lethal injections more objectionable than firing squads, hangings, or even guillotines. The use of drugs to bring about a quiet, peaceful death is appropriate for household pets, not for human beings. A doctor, whose sworn duty is to protect human life, should never be involved in devising means by which to end life-- much less in administering those means. I'd like to keep the medical profession far, far removed from the business of legal execution. 

Moreover, the choice of a "humane" system of capital punishment seems to be at odds with the purpose of capital punishment. If the state is right to execute criminals-- and again, I am consciously sidestepping that debate here-- then surely the execution itself should signal society's abhorrence for the criminal's actions. The executioner should not torment the convict, but neither should he convey the idea that he is putting a tormented soul out of his own misery. Yes, execution is a violent act. 

Finally, most means of administering the death penalty require one individual to take action-- to flip the switch-- that causes the convict's death. In a traditional firing squad, one rifle is loaded with a blank round, so that no member of the firing squad knows with certainty that his action will harm the convicted felon. The members of the firing squad are not acting on their own; they are carrying out a legal mandate. That blank round is a way of recognizing that no one individual should bear the responsibility for deliberately ending a man's life. 

 

 

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  • Posted by: BobJ70777069 - Jun. 15, 2010 2:45 PM ET USA

    This is something I've thought about for a long time. Those who push lethal injection, or before that, electrocution, as humane are really talking about their own sensibilities. The most "humane" method would be to shoot someone in the back of the head unexpectedly. The most "civilized" would be the firing squad.

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