This Isn’t Rocket Science

According to the New York Times, the “prolonged” execution of one Dennis McGuire — who had been condemned for the brutal murder of a young pregnant woman — has raised, once again, questions about the humaneness of various methods of execution. In Mr. McGuire’s case, the technique was lethal injection:

As the lethal drugs flowed into his veins in the Ohio death chamber, Dennis B. McGuire at first “went unconscious” and his body was still, his daughter, Amber McGuire, said Friday.

But a few minutes later, she said, she was horrified to see her father struggling, his stomach heaving, a fist clenching.

“He started making all these horrible, horrible noises, and at that point, that’s when I covered my eyes and my ears,” said Ms. McGuire, who watched the execution on Thursday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, near Lucasville. “He was suffering.”

Mr. McGuire’s execution, conducted with a new and untested combination of drugs, took about 25 minutes from the time the drugs were started to the time death was declared. The process, several witnesses said, was accompanied by movement and gasping, snorting and choking sounds.

It has not been established whether Mr. McGuire was conscious of pain or whether the drugs that were used were responsible for his prolonged death. But at a time when the drugs once routinely used in executions are in short supply and states are scrambling to find new formulas, the execution is stirring intense debate about the obligations of the state toward those it kills.

Let’s leave aside the not-uninteresting question of the “obligations of the state toward those it kills” (some might argue, after all, that flaying and exposure would be a more suitable response, and a more effective deterrent, for the kind of crime Mr. McGuire committed). We will assume, arguendo, that what we want is a means of execution that is sudden, 100% reliable, and can safely be assumed to cause no lingering discomfort.

Is this really so difficult to produce? How about, say, three simultaneous shotgun blasts to the back of the head, at point-blank range? That ought to satisfy our criteria. What about dropping a ten-ton flat steel slab from a height of about fifteen feet? Why not a Semtex neck-pillow? (I could go on, but you get the point: this is easy.)

What am I missing here? Why all this fussing? Given what we are trying to accomplish here this should be, if you will forgive me, a no-brainer.

Here’s the only answer I can think of: we’re squeamish. All the methods I’ve suggested are messy, and create a lot of splatter. I think that we prefer silly, complicated arrangements — gas chambers, electrocution, and lethal injection — because they make killing the condemned more painless for us.

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  1. JK says

    Gary Gilmore apparently, had reasons.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  2. “What am I missing here?”

    I am inclined to think that question is rhetorical, but I’ll donate my $0.02 …

    What you are missing/questioning is the liberals’ obsession with the low end of our society’s prioritized to-do list; the part of the list that comprises the majority of the no-brainers.

    The issue at hand was pretty much settled millennia ago: an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth; and, by extension, brutal killing for a brutal murder.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    OK, I’ve added my best guess at an explanation.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  4. Dom says

    I think you’re missing the agenda here. US companies won’t produce the chemicals because they can be sued. European companies are forbidden by law to export them to any country with a death penalty. The next step, which you are seeing here, is to call it a cruel punishment, which it is forced to be, and then get rid of it.

    I’m against the death penalty anyway. We’ve executed the wrong people sometimes.

    TBH, that law was a milestone when it replaced the previous law, a life for an eye, a life for a tooth. Even the ancient Hebrews got past it.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    Of course, you could always adopt the method favored in North Korea.

    I never understood what all of the fuss was about. After all: who among us hasn’t tossed a relative to a pack of starving dogs at least once in our lives?

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  6. “Even the ancient Hebrews got past it.”

    It’s not clear to me, Dom, what noun your pronoun “it” refers to.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  7. “… who among us hasn’t tossed a relative to a pack of starving dogs at least once in our lives?”

    I haven’t.

    But, of course, I am not a deranged dictator; the Nazis exterminated most of my relatives; and I, for one, am no longer a liberal.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  8. Dom says

    TBH, “it” is the eye for an eye law, the lex talionis, I believe. Sorry.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  9. “Even the ancient Hebrews got past it.”

    Neither the ancient nor the modern Hebrews ever claimed to be infallible.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  10. Moreover, Dom, whenever you have two Hebrews disputing any issue, you will, inevitably, hear three or more opinions.

    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  11. Fred says

    Hold a lottery, $100 tickets, proceeds to the victims family.

    Pick a dozen winners, put them in a firing squad with identical rifles of which six have real bullets, six have blanks.

    25 yards, aiming point over the heart.

    Humane and helps the victims family

    Posted January 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  12. JK says

    Y’all in other states could, I reckon – just farm your death-sentenced convicted to Arkansas.

    Unlike TBH’s “Hebrews getting beyond stuff” we hold firm to our religious based traditions. And nope, it is not rocket science.

    Posted January 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  13. Bill says

    I’ve always been a fan of public hanging. It is so ignominious. Second would be a firing squad. I also think holding these events in seclusion reduces the inhibitory impact of the death penalty. If a would-be felon can SEE what happens it might just be a bit more important to him/her.

    I proposed instead of the standard lethal injection for Tookey, or who ever he was in CA that clubbed a family to death and then became a cause celeb for the liberals, that all the surviving family be given clubs, and the murderer be released in an area from which he could not escape. That does however smack of an-eye-for-an-eye. But then again, I’m not sure how civilized I am in the first place.

    Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  14. “That does however smack of an-eye-for-an-eye.”

    Yes it does, Bill. And that is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote, “…, by extension, brutal killing for a brutal murder.” Moreover, it also has the benefit of retribution for the family, which, for me, is a definite plus.

    The liberals will call it uncivilized and not PC. Ask me if I care.

    Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink