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NYT Opens the Door to the Humane Myth

In this morning's New York Times editorial "There Is No 'Humane' Execution," we have an imperfect yet nevertheless baby step toward acknowledgment of the HumaneMyth.

Let's summarize and deconstruct:

  • After a botched execution, Ohio adopted a single-drug formula to replace the three-drug cocktail previously used to kill people. The most recent execution, of Kenneth Biros, involved 30 minutes to find a vein for the single-drug and "the execution only reinforced that any form of capital punishment is legally suspect and morally wrong."
  • Regardless of how many drugs are used or if the person dies in one minute or ten, "No matter how it is done, for the state to put someone to death is inherently barbaric," says the NYT.
  • There are also the many innocent people who have been executed, though that's an entirely different discussion.
  • The imperfection comes at the end of the editorial with: "Earlier this year, New Mexico repealed its death penalty, joining 14 other states — and the District of Columbia — that do not allow it. That is the way to eliminate the inevitable problems with executions." This is amazing. We went from an abolitionist angle–that executing people is morally wrong–to the death penalty needs to be repealed to eliminate problems during the execution.

But I'm dedicated to eking out the positive message here, which is that there is no way to take the life of another, no matter who they are or what they've done, and call that humane. Three drugs, one drug, 30 minutes, one minute, none of that matters. Of course, less suffering is always better than more, but when you are taking someone's life, I'm pretty sure it's the life-taking that's most important to them.

Riddle me this: What's the difference between a cow and someone on death row? For one thing, the cow has not been convicted of some heinous crime. The cow will be executed simply because she is a cow. And isn't it odd that we would have such a difficult time, for decades, trying to figure out if it's okay to kill someone who is a demonstrated threat to the community, yet not only do we not think twice about killing a cow, who is no threat whatsoever, but we actually create cows for the sole purpose of killing them? Where's the moral objection on behalf of cows?

Finally, until we as a society develop a collective objection to killing human animals who have committed atrocities, we are unlikely to develop such an objection to killing nonhuman animals. But that doesn't mean we should work toward abolishing the death penalty first, and then move to the case of animals. The identical principle is at work–taking the life of another when it isn't necessary is inherently unjust.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stephanie E. #

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. You've just touched on issues & hypocrisies I've been thinking about a lot in the last couple years (and this thoughtful post is inspiring me to pen an overdue related one in the new space later today). Thanks for drawing attention to the NYT piece; I almost certainly would have missed it otherwise.

    December 14, 2009
  2. "Of course, less suffering is always better than more, but when you are taking someone's life, I'm pretty sure it's the life-taking that's most important to them."

    Well put.

    December 14, 2009
  3. It's posts like this that keep me sane! 😉

    December 15, 2009

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