Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Inky takes on the death penalty

I'm just a touch perplexed by today's editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The ed board there is apparently extra-horrified by the way Ohio now plans to execute its death-row prisoners:

The continued practice of capital punishment got even more unsettling with Ohio's announcement that it will become the second state that executes convicts with a drug typically used to euthanize animals.

Pentobarbital is well-known to veterinarians, who use it to euthanize terminally ill pets.

Comparisons between executions and putting a pet out of its misery might be unfair, but they're unavoidable now. Some people call murderers "animals," which is how they will be treated when Oklahoma and Ohio dispatch them to eternity.

The whole apparatus of state-sanctioned executions is awful to comprehend, but even more so with the use of a drug pulled from your local vet's medicine cabinet.

I think the Inquirer is trying to say that the death penalty is bad, and I agree. But I don't get this particular set of quibbling. Is the death penalty really worse because states have exchanged one set of lethal chemicals for another? It's hard to see how. It would be one thing if the Inquirer wanted to argue the new chemicals will some how increase a convict's suffering during execution, but that's not what is being said here, and I'm not sure that's even the case. There are a host of reasons to believe that states shouldn't have the power of life or death over their citizens; I'm not sure that squeamishness is really going to rank that highly among them.


namefromthepast said...

You wrote:

"There are a host of reasons to believe that states shouldn't have the power of life or death over their citizens."

I agree and I'm proud of you. But...

If government didn't have that power why pay attention?

What other power does any government ulitimately have if not the legal monopoly of instigating lethal force, or effectively end life through incarceration?

I know you were not on this path but I tell myself that to be a man of principle, thoughts should be congruent on every issue.

I was challenged with this concept recently and it intrigues me.


Joel said...

Name: I hear where you're coming from, and believe it or not, I find a kind of anarcho-libertarianism seductive. You're right: Governments ultimately live by their power of coercion.

But I guess I do, ultimately, believe these matters are best seen along a spectrum instead of an either-or situation. A government that herds its citizens off to concentration camps is qualitatively different from one that collects sales taxes. There are few humans who are *perfectly* free, and those who are probably live in isolation. The rest of us understand there are tradeoffs: the government takes my money, sure, but it also furnishes services that are helpful and/or essential to community living.

So I do believe that government should have some coercive powers because, ultimately, I believe that government requires those powers to exist. (And, realistically, humans are going to create governments of varying levels of power and centrality to serve some functions.) But the power to actually take a life should require a very high bar be hurdled. Capital murder is pretty high. But it's not high enough IMHO. Your mileage may vary.

namefromthepast said...

Well written and I agree.

In the matter of the death penalty, the tradeoff is we've given money to government to protect us from people who could potentially kill again. If our investment is only money it is fair to expect efficiency. A Christianlike viewpoint opposes the death penalty because all life is sacred. I have not been exposed to objective reasoning for life in prison.

The spectrum I suspect is the case of left vs right-I seem to be the ongoing defendant.

The further left a person is the more freedom that person is willing to trade for a sense of security.

History tells us when you trade your freedom for security you get neither.

FYI-I am a libertarian you've guessed correctly but you win nothing.

Thanks for the bantor.

DOTDOT said...

"If government didn't have that power, why pay attention?"

Indeed. The central question, I suppose. The answer is blowing in the wind between random realities.

For instance, any five year old can pull a trigger and have the same power over their fellow citizens. On the other hand, an angry hate-filled young man killing over a few dollars is not weighing the risks of his behavior against the sentencing laws in the state he is committing his crime.

I doubt anyone committing a capital offense is saying to themselves, "Hey, I better not make this bad decision because if I get caught, I might die someday."

The deterrent value of the death penalty is nil, in my view. Regardless of the particular drug used.