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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Sanitized’ executions no less inhumane

    Shurid Sencolumnist
    Shurid Sen
    columnist

    Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy prolonged the life of Floridian Clarence E. Hill just minutes before his scheduled death Jan. 24 of this year, placing a temporary hold on his execution to hear his case in our highest court. Yesterday, Hill was granted his day in the Supreme Court to make his case for a stay of execution.

    In 1983, Hill was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Although his sentence was twice reduced from death, it was once again reinstated in 1995. After much litigation, Florida governor Jeb Bush signed Hill’s life away in late 2005. Hill subsequently appealed to the Florida Supreme Court and a federal Appeals Court, where his death sentence was upheld.

    Hill’s appeal to the Supreme Court lies mainly in technicalities – that is, he claims that the lower court decisions against him were made without taking into account the proper procedures prescribed by the law.

    However, the case he built in getting to the Supreme Court was much different. Hill claimed that Florida’s preferred method of execution, lethal injection, was an infraction upon his Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Hill cited a 2005 study in the Lancet, a well-known medical journal.

    According to the study, inmates put to death by lethal injection can be subject to “”savage torment”” – not the painless death that is typically associated with the method. The condemned is injected with a combination of three chemicals, intended to first render the person unconscious, then bring on lethal cardiac arrest and asphyxiation.

    However, the study concluded that when administered improperly, lethal injection leads to suffocation and coronary arrest in a conscious but paralyzed state, along with excruciating pain. The inmate is locked in his or her own body to suffer a painful death, unapparent to witnesses.

    While the court is highly unlikely to address the death penalty itself, the case does seem to raise concerns over a method that has long been perceived as a “”humane”” means of carrying out a capital sentence. At the very least, the study suggests further study into the procedure is necessary.

    Many proponents of capital punishment claim that it is a deterrent to crime. Yet there is no scientific data to support this theory. According to a U.N. study regarding capital punishment and homicide rates between 1988 and 2002, there is no evidence that the threat of capital punishment deters murder any more so than the threat of lifetime imprisonment.

    The U.S. has been the target of international calls to eliminate capital punishment, even as we accuse others of human rights violations. Most developed countries have banned the death penalty altogether. However, the U.S. is part of a dubious group, including China, Iran and Vietnam, that comprised 97 percent of all executions worldwide in 2004.

    This is hardly a “”who’s who”” list of global advocates of human rights.

    The death penalty in the U.S. has been utilized widely since its re-institution in 1977, when the preferred method was electrocution. The shift away from electrocution to lethal injection in the time since indicates an effort to reduce the amount of visible violence to the condemned. It is part of the continued trend toward restriction of capital punishment, from the guillotine to the firing squad to the noose.

    The evolution of our society seems to indicate a path away from an obviously gruesome means of punishment. But at what point do we mature enough to realize that a death sentence is still a death sentence, regardless of how sanitized it is to the eye? Regardless of how bloodless and painless the process appears to be, capital punishment extinguishes a human life, life that we presume to uphold as sacred above anything else.

    Shurid Sen is a junior majoring in political science and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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