Monday, April 23, 2012

How Do You Kill a Human Humanely?

The debate over the application of the death penalty is certainly one that polarises opinion. However, I think one of the less well debated issues is not whether its use is ethically correct, but whether current methods are truly humane. Of course, many people feel that in applying capital punishment, it is not necessary for the State to have such concerns - and that this, in itself, should form part of the punishment. However, others might argue that in order to distance themselves from the accusation of state-sponsored murder, governments have to at least try to make sure that the death penalty is administered as painlessly as possible.

In 2008, former British member of parliament Michael Portillo made a documentary for the BBC's Horizon programme in which he set out to discover the most humane way to kill a prisoner. I was quite shocked by how many recent executions in the US seem to have been botched and how little appears to be known about how much pain a prisoner being executed may feel before they die. Both the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution of 1791 state that a prisoner has the right not to be subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment", while Article 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights has similar wording. Uncertainty about whether current methods constitute this (among other legal arguments) have resulted in somewhat of a crisis in some US states. Capital punishment is currently suspended for prisoners on death row in California and, since 2007, three states have repealed it (New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois).

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