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.