Thursday, August 16, 2012

Argumentative Essay on Lethal Injection


Hanging was one of the earliest methods of execution used in the United States.  As a punishment for violation of certain crimes, hanging was considered very effective because of its simplicity and social impact.  It was simple because it only required a tree and a rope to be implemented.  It was effective because it allows the rest of the community to witness the offender’s execution and consequently sends a strong message to the community about the severe punishment of crime. 

As technology developed, changes were also made in the implementation of capital punishment.  In the 1890s, there was a radical change in the manner executions were made as the state of New York utilized electrocution in implementing the death penalty. (Richard C. Dieter 2)   The shift from hanging to electrocution can be interpreted as a shift in the attitude towards capital punishment.  While in hanging every member of the community is made a participant in the execution by acting as a witness, electrocution emphasized on privacy.  Moreover, since electrocution takes place inside a private room, the incidences of unruliness on the public are avoided.  The shift can also be interpreted as the first concrete step towards the search for a more humane, quick, less painful means of executing criminal offenders.

There are however certain imperfections in the use of electrocution.  One of the most common problems encountered in electrocution are burning of the portions of the inmate’s body; eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on his cheeks; flesh swells and skin stretches; sometimes the procedure fails to cause instant death and there is a need to administer repeated shocks.   (“Methods of Execution”)

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Lethal Injection
Because of the inefficiency of the electrocution to effect a more humane way of execution, gas chamber was used as an alternative and the use of cyanide gas was introduced in Nevada in 1924.   Lethal injection is just a continuation of the state searching for the most humane method of punishing a criminal offender. 

In search for the most humane, less painful and quickest means to execute criminal offender, the United States was the first country to perform executions by lethal injection in 1982 although Oklahoma as early as 1977 had passed legislation allowing lethal injection.  China subsequently followed and became the second state to adopt lethal injection in 19977. 

In the United States, Charles Brooks was the first convicted criminal to have been executed through legal injection on December 2, 1982.  It is said that 38 states are currently adopting this method of execution. (“Descriptions of Execution Methods”) As of July 1, 2006, 861 of 1,029 (81%) executions performed since 1976 have been by lethal injection, including 375 of the last 378 executions.  (“Methods of Execution”)

It is presently considered as the most humane and least painful means of execution.  This method makes use of a combination of three drugs: a) sodium thiopental or sodium pentothal which is a barbiturate that renders the prisoner unconscious, b) pancuronium bromide which is a muscle relaxant that paralyzes the diaphragm and lungs and c) potassium chloride which causes cardiac arrest.   In this method, the convicted individual is first escorted into the gas chamber and is strapped into a gurney with ankle and wrist restraints.  He is then connected to a cardiac monitor which is connected to a printer.  Two needles are then inserted into the person’s veins, usually in his arms.  The needle is connected to long tubes which contain harmless saline solution that is started immediately. Then, he is injected with sodium thiopental.  Then, pancuronium bromide is injected to the convicted person.  Finally, the flow of potassium chloride stops the heart.  Death results from anesthetic overdose and respiratory and cardiac arrest while the condemned person is unconscious.

Eighth Amendment Argument against Lethal Injection
Despite the evolution in the manner convicted criminal offenders are being executed and the use of modern medical methods of execution, there are still those who oppose lethal injection and argue that it can cause unnecessary pain and suffering.  Specifically, lawyers for the accused in Kentucky challenged the use of three-drug combination arguing that lethal injections violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  In view of these oppositions, executions in the United States have been stopped pending the resolution by the Supreme Court on this case. 

The opponents of lethal injection who are anesthesiologists and end-of-life doctors argue that if a person is not properly anesthetized the paralyzing drug which is the second drug injected will prevent the inmate from being able to indicate any pain or distress. (Eric Weiner 1)  The third drug will make matters worse for the inmate as he will only feel as if he is slowly being suffocated.  This experience will be excruciatingly painful for him and he will most likely feel burning sensation in his veins.

Baze v. Rees
The argument that lethal injections violate the Eighth Amendment has already been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Baze v. Rees, 217 S. W. 3d 207 (2008).  In ruling that lethal injections do not violate the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, the Supreme Court made the following declarations, to wit: 1) The case of Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) has declared that capital punishment is constitutional.  This only means that the constitution accepts the fact that pain cannot be absolutely avoided in capital punishments.  No matter how humane the method is, it must follow that there will always be pain associated with capital punishment.  Thus, it can be inferred that in order to comply with Eighth Amendment it does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in executions; 2) Although it may be true that there is a significant risk that the procedures in lethal injections may not be properly followed, and that the execution may result in pain, either because of accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, it does not follow that the punishment violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment; 3) While it may be true that there are other safer and less painful alternative to lethal injection, as claimed by the opponents of lethal injection, it also does not follow that lethal injections violate the Eighth Amendment.  To allow opponents of capital punishment to establish that a violation of Eighth Amendment had taken place merely by virtue of presenting other alternatives, which they claim to be less painful and more humane, would in effect convert the courts to board of inquiry which shall be responsible for determining the best practices for executing criminal offenders; 4) lethal injections do not violate the Eighth Amendment because the same is accepted the 36 states that consider lethal injection as the preferred method of execution.  The same states utilize the three-drug combination in their executions.  It must be stressed that none of the states presently use the one-drug alternative being proposed by the opponents of lethal injection; 5) the risk of the improper administration of the drug involved does not also suffice to render lethal injections as violating of the Eighth Amendment as all the states that adopt lethal injections provide for safeguards to ensure that an adequate dose of drugs is administered to the convicted offender.  One of the safeguards is that the members of the team who will administer the three-drug combination are required to have at least one year of professional experience.  Also, they must be licensed medical professionals and must participate in at least 10 practice sessions per year.  An additional safeguard is the presence of the warden and deputy warden in the execution chamber who are tasked to closely monitor and watch for problems in the execution. 

The Supreme Court has eloquently spoken on the issue of Eighth Amendment violation of the use of lethal injection as a method of execution.  Lethal Injections do not violate the Eighth Amendment.  Gregg v. Georgia allows and recognizes that constitutionality of death penalty.  The three drugs administered to the offender which serve different functions in the body ensure that the offender will experience a quick and painless death.  The persons administering the lethal injection are all medically qualified and with sufficient expertise and training.  The warden also closely monitors the administration of the lethal injection.  While it may have imperfections, as of the moment it is the quickest, less painful and humane methods of execution. 

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