Berkshire Eagle
  Monday, June 26, 2006

  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 

  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.