February 16, 2009
Execution methods and theories of punishment
This week we will turn this week from broad discussion of capital punishment theories and practices to a focused discussion of constitutional doctrine. (And here is a reminder that everyone should be prepared to discuss the McGautha case.) But this great newspaper article, headlined "Firing squads are more humane, experts say," provides a great overview of how different death penalty theories and practices intersect when we consider execution methods. Here are some notable snippets from the article:
Rep. Delmar Burridge knows his death penalty bill isn’t going anywhere this legislative session. His bill to bring back the firing squad as punishment for gun-related murders didn’t have a single sympathizer during a recent House committee hearing, and Burridge said he brought the proposal forward to make a point, not new law.
But some execution experts say that the Keene Democrat’s proposal should get a fair hearing. Firing squads, they say, may look old-fashioned and barbaric, but they may be more humane than other methods.
A 1993 study that examined the pain associated with different execution methods had firing squad ranked close to lethal injection. But that research came before more recent reports about problems with lethal injections — incompetent executioners, medically complicated inmates and otherwise botched executions — that have led five states to put executions on hold as they consider ways to improve the status quo.
“That’s definitely something worth investigating,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York who has studied execution methods for 18 years and testified in state and federal courts about lethal injection. “There’s evidence that (a firing squad) could be the most humane method that’s currently available.”...
Burridge said he chose the method primarily for its public-relations value. He said he thought a death by shooting might be more likely to stick in the minds of would-be criminals and deter them from committing crimes using guns. “I call it the enhanced death penalty,” he said. “You’ve got to love the marketing.”...
Worldwide, firing squad is the most common method of execution. But it’s generally associated with “repressive governments,” including Libya, Cuba, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, said David Fathi, the U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch. His organization, which opposes the death penalty, authored an influential report in 2006 outlining failings in the states’ lethal injection protocols. But despite those problems, Fathi did not agree that New Hampshire should choose the firing squad. “These are not countries that we generally strive to emulate,” he said....
One strong argument in favor of lethal injection and against the firing squad is the appearance of the execution. Lethal injection looks dignified and painless to watchers, said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The guards, the wardens, the witnesses probably do not want five rifles going off and a bloody person bleeding to death in front of them,” Dieter said. “I think these methods are partially chosen for their appearance.”...
On this very blog, back when it was used as a resource for the death penalty course taught at Moritz in Spring 2007, students can find lots and lots of posts on execution methods:
- More on executions methods and the role of doctors
- Readings for Feb. 21 on execution methods
- Follow-up execution method readings
March 04, 2007
Lots of lethal injection doings
As detailed at my main blog, there's been lots of lethal injection developments since our last class meeting. Here are links to some of my coverage at SL&P:
I plan to recap some of these developments at the start of our Wednesday class, but then we will turn to the discussion of federal death penalty issues (materials on their way).
March 01, 2007
Does the Florida LI commission's recs require greater doctor involvement?
Providing a fitting capstone to our discussions of execution methods and the role of doctors, today the Florida's Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection finalized its recommendations today on improving the state's lethal injection process. I cannot yet find the Commission's report on line yet, but this article details that the report, which comes from a group created by out-going Governor Jeb Bush back in December after a botched execution, has more than a dozen recommendations.
By my lights, it would seem that some of the recommendations almost require the involvement of doctors in the execution process. Consider these recommendations (as reported by the press):
- Medically examine the inmate one week before the execution and determine the best method to achieve IV access.
- Don't move the inmate after IV access is achieved and take other steps to make sure IV access is maintained throughout the entire execution.
- Improve training, including holding periodic training exercises for all execution team members in which they practice possible contingencies.
Would the AMA's policy against physician involvement in executions allow doctors to play any role in these activities?