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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

Oklahoma's search for humane executions is futile

Nitrogen gas
"I believe that there is nothing humane about killing a human being. We speak of humane modes of execution only for animals to put them out of their suffering."

Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh recently announced that Oklahoma would no longer attempt to execute prisoners by lethal injection and would begin drafting a protocol for a new mode of execution, inert gas inhalation or nitrogen hypoxia.

They admitted that lethal injection is unworkable in Oklahoma. Allbaugh said he has been engaged in a search for drugs for 2 years that has taken him "to the backstreets of the Indian subcontinent" and has been unable to purchase them. Hunter blamed the inability to purchase drugs on "a guerrilla war waged against the death penalty by its opponents," seeking to intimidate and boycott drug suppliers.

I suggest that the primary reason that lethal injection has become unworkable is that doctors and pharmacists have refused to participate. The American Medical Association and the American Society of Anesthesiologists have urged members not to participate because it violates professional obligations to preserve life and it brings disrepute to their profession. The multi-state grand jury convened by then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt to investigate the botched executions in Oklahoma concluded that the Department of Corrections could not find competent doctors and pharmacists to participate.

Hunter and Allbaugh assert that IGI or nitrogen hypoxia is the most humane mode of execution possible. I believe that there is nothing humane about killing a human being. We speak of humane modes of execution only for animals to put them out of their suffering.

Nitrogen hypoxia has never been used as a mode of execution in the United States. Hunter and Allbaugh speculate that nitrogen hypoxia will be a more humane form of execution, based on case studies of assisted suicide. This is a questionable analogy. The terminally ill patients who submitted to nitrogen hypoxia were near death and unable to endure their pain and suffering. They wanted to die and assisted in the process. We do not know what will happen when the procedure is tried on a healthy, 40-year-old man, who wants to live and will resist the process.

Hunter appeals to sympathy for victims' families to justify the resumption of the death penalty in Oklahoma. I have great empathy for the victims' families. No one can appreciate the loss that they have suffered and continue to suffer. I do not understand how killing another person promotes healing.

The death penalty brings justice only if you define justice as retribution and vengeance. The prisoner has been tried and convicted of a crime and has been incarcerated for 15 years or more in solitary confinement on death row. What more does justice require? How does killing that person bring comfort or closure? How is justice served by strapping a defenseless prisoner to a bed and injecting them with lethal drugs or putting on a mask to starve them of oxygen?

The arch of history is bending against Oklahoma. Crucifixions, beheadings and drawing and quartering once were culturally accepted modes of execution. Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for membership into the European Union. The United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that exercised the death penalty in the last 10 years. Only 11 states have carried out the death penalty in the last 5 years, 9 of which are in the South.

The death penalty will be unlawful in Oklahoma someday, most probably by a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. I hope it comes sooner rather than later. The challenge will be to change hearts and minds of Oklahomans to recognize the death penalty as a relic of the past that diminishes us all.

Source: Tulsa World, Editorial, Don Heath, March 28, 2018. Don Heath is chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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