Monday, June 26, 2006 Editorial Killing people softly Some medical experts assert that advances in the technique of lethal injection could make execution of prisoners less painful, which in turn could undermine the argument of death penalty opponents that injecting prisoners with fatal doses of drugs is "cruel and unusual" punishment and forbidden by the Constitution. If anything, finding ways to "kill people softly" to make it easier for the state to send people to their deaths only heightens the barbarity of capital punishment. According to a New York Times report last week, forensic pathologists knowledgeable in the process of lethal injection believe changes in the three-drug mixture now in widespread use, specifically a greater reliance upon a major overdose of barbiturates, would enable those sentenced to death to suffer less in the process. The current process is actually designed to make lethal injection less painful for witnesses to watch than for the convicted prisoner to endure. Pavulon paralyzes the prisoner so he will not show the effects of deadly barbiturate injections, which can cause noticeable convulsions. There is no way to know if the prisoner is suffering while paralyzed by Pavulon, but the witnesses are not. This discussion itself exposes the barbarity of capital punishment. Changes in the lethal injection process please death penalty advocates not because those convicted will suffer less but because lawsuits stalling executions in many states on the grounds that lethal injection is cruel and unusual will be undermined. This is the kind of cynicism that results whenever government gets involved in killing, whether of convicted criminals or foes in ill-considered foreign wars. Recent advances in collecting and analyzing DNA evidence --- a scientific effort that actually should be pursued --- have saved many prisoners on death row from being executed for crimes that they did not commit. Governor Romney's effort in Massachusetts to install a "fool-proof" death penalty failed because the Legislature was wise enough to know that the death penalty can't in any way be made fool-proof. If someone is found to have been jailed unfairly he or she can be released and compensated in some fashion. There is no undoing a death penalty. No one should trust government with the power of life and death over its citizens, least of all conservatives who ordinarily mistrust big government but are generally supportive of the death penalty. Rather than find ways to make it easier for government to kill prisoners, let's continue to work on laws that sentence the deserving to life in prison without the possibility of parole.