Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Capital Punishment

I got a gift card from my parents this Christmas for Borders Bookstore. One of the books I got is called Better by Atul Gawande. I've almost finished itt and it as been a fascinating read. I read his first book, Complications, and I have wanted to read this next book for a while, but none of the libraries in the area had it. I put in a request for the book at the BYU Library, but it hasn't been processed yet. Anyway, I have the book now and it's really, really interesting.

One of the chapters he discusses is about a doctor's involvement in the execution of inmates on death row. The AMA strictly forbids a doctor to assist in the execution in anyway. The only way they are allowed to be involved is signing the death papers after someone else examines the body. However, there are some doctors who do help with the executions. They assist for a variety of reasons. One of the most interesting reasons that a doctor gave is that he feels it is his role to give comfort to those who are dieing. He had been working in a jail providing primary care to inmates, feeling that he was making a positive influence in their lives. One thing followed another, and he got roped into confirming the deaths of patients after they had received lethal injections, then he helped place the IV lines in difficult veins. He now does basically everything except push the poison into the IV. He feels that these inmates suffer from a "terminal disease," that disease being a legal verdict rather than a cancer. He makes sure that the doses are given in the right amount and that the proper heart rate and unconsciousness is achieved before giving the inmate the bolus of potassium that is lethal. The amazing thing is that this doctor is against capital punishment. It is his hope that the state will make it illegal for a doctor to be involved in executions, thereby making mistakes more likely in lethal injections, thereby making lethal injection a "cruel and unusual punishment," and with that make every form of execution cruel and unusual (hanging can take five to ten minutes before they die, fire squads are notorious for intentionally missing the heart, electric chair victims sometimes undergo two or three rounds of shocks before they die), thus banning capital punishment.

The vast majority of Americans approve of capital punishment. I'm not sure if I do or not. I don't believe that the threat of death deters murderers. Many of them live with the threat of death every day. I also don't think its cheaper to kill someone than to keep them in prison for the rest of their life--the cost of trials and appeals in court cases is astronomical. The main issue is whether or not there are some crimes that are so bad, so horrific, that that person deserves to die. I have heard of some things that people have done that are so terrible that I cringe every time I think of it. Is death a just punishment for them?

This is the Church's official statement regarding the death penalty:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regards the question of whether and in what circumstances the state should impose capital punishment as a matter to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law. We neither promote nor oppose capital punishment."
I haven't totally made up my mind yet, and I may never actually make up my mind exactly the way I want, but right now I think I'm leaning toward being against capital punishment. Maybe because I think the government should respect the sanctity of all life, even if individuals don't. Maybe because I think by executing someone, we may be ending their life prematurely and they might have time to change. Maybe by executing someone, we might be trying to make two wrongs a right. I don't know. I'm glad I don't have to be the one making those tough decisions.


Anna said...

Bryan, you just summed up exactly how I feel about the death penalty. I agree with every point you made and that book sounds pretty interesting. It made me feel a little better to hear on the radio that as a country we sent a lot less people to death row last year. I heard in on NPR. Apparently this is linked to the fact that more states have the option of life in prison without parole. I guess it's only been recently that some states have made the "without parole" part really strict. Before there was no guarantee that a life sentence wouldn't end early.

I don't think this is a solution (if you want to get depressed you should look at how many people we put in prison per capita compared to the rest of the world) but it does make me feel a little better.

Katie said...

First off, I agree with Anna that I think you summed up how I currently feel about the death penalty. Also, this reminds me a lot of that episode of West Wing from season 1.

dudleysharp said...

please reconsider:

"Physicians & The State Execution of Murderers: No Ethical/Medical Dilemma"

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

"Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"

23 recent deterrence studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation,

A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection, Lester Jackson Ph.D.,

"The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"