Life as an Extreme Sport

Aesthetic Death

I think that, at this time, just about everyone knows about the legal challenges to lethal injection, and the ruling that they may cause extreme pain and suffering, and thus cannot be administered without certified medical personnel there who can insure that the prisoner is first unconscious before administering further drugs. Of course, at this point no public doctor or nurse is willing to participate, feeling that although they should relieve pain and suffering, they should also not be present to involuntarily end a life. Well, today the New York Times has an article about how suffering could be significantly reduced in executions, without necessitating a medical personnel there. The problem? According to the NYTimes,

At the core of the issue is a debate about which matters more, the comfort of prisoners or that of the people who watch them die. A major obstacle to change is that alternative methods of lethal injection, though they might be easier on inmates, would almost certainly be harder on witnesses and executioners.

Now, as most of you know, I’m a relatively practicing Buddhist, and a firm pacifist. So this next bit might surprise you – but I support the death penalty in certain cases.

I do believe that too many people on death row are there falsely, with bad science or law behind them. But I also believe that there are people there who’ve admitted to their crimes, or for whom the evidence was more than overwhelming. And in general, these people are so heinous, reform appears impossible and I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest if they were humanely euthanized.

The problem I have is threefold: first, the above-mentioned issue of innocence. I would like a system where it’s near-impossible to execute the wrong person, and we don’t have that right now. Secondly, it takes entirely too long to move from sentencing to execution. This isn’t an issue for the ones who can’t be reformed, who appear the same variety of sheer evil 20 years later as they do 2 days later. But this, of course, isn’t always the case – there are murderers who do change; often, they tend to be the ones who need treatment, be it counseling or medicine. Should we then have a clause that if a shrink notes you’ve made significant progress in changing your sentence can be commuted to life in prison? I don’t know – that might place undue burden on shrinks. But we change so much in 20 years; we’re not even the same person, quite literally; our cells have died and reborn and died again almost three times over in 20 years. Multiple biological changes have occured, and that’s not even beginning to consider the mental and emotional ones. And of course, the third objection is that it very well might be inhumane and cruel, causing pain and suffering.

Some people might ask what the problem is what that; after all, the person is being executed. The thing is, I don’t think acknowledging the sometimes need to cull the herd, as it were, I don’t think that culling should be done cruelly. So of course, in a case of irony, it appears that in an effort to make it appear serene and uncruel to the witnesses, the suppposedly more humane method of execution is not necessarily so, and the method that would be more humane would be more discomforting to watch.

We, of course, opt to comfort the witness, and not the person being executed. It makes me wonder, a bit, at our attitude towards death: it’s okay, so long as it’s pretty and serene…? Is this just a manifestation of our general desire to have death be neat and tidy, a further extension of our attempt to sanitize dying? I think most likely, yes. And so the end result, in our desire for neat appearances to comfort our own visige of our death, we take the fast and cruel approach because it’s prettier – a more aesthetic death than the longer, twitchier, and more painless one.