Though the ease and frequency with which we perform this task outside the law suggest that it should not be so, killing people legally — execution — is turning out to be quite a problem. A recent Arizona execution occupied media air time and headlines and fed public dudgeon over the fact that the convicted killer required some 15 ‘lethal’ injections and two hours to depart for his reward. And this explains a great deal about our present society.
The Romans crucified offenders; we used to burn them alive or more mercifully, hang them but mainly Moslems resort to such activities today (plus stoning). Hanging gained a negative reputation from too many cases where the victim just hung there and slowly strangled, or their heads came off, or occasionally, the rope broke, leaving the victim alive and well.
These events gave birth to the electric chair as the more merciful and efficient answer of a civilized society to this unpleasant duty. However, as experience accumulated, reality paralleled the history of hanging. Some victims sat screaming while their electric connections smoked and flamed. Some required repeated jolts before they would agree to die and a few again just plain refused to terminate at all. Adding a hood and gag made life easier for onlookers but did nothing to obscure what was going on. And so, now we have lethal injection, that is proving once again, to be troublesome. Our species does not like to die easily, per the evidence.
The State of Utah long stood out for its use of the firing squad for these events; there is some sentiment to bring that once more to the fore. You put a bunch of holes into someone, they pretty reliably, die for you. Not, of course, necessarily in a hurry. And we suppose that it hurts. The real issue here is the growth of public revulsion at the idea of execution for crime. We have evolved from everybody declaring a picnic and attending public executions, to outlawing most of them and conducting the few remaining under secretive conditions. The criminals who commit the crimes — usually, murders –that receive these sentences remain unchanged. But the public would rather pay many thousands of dollars a year to imprison such offenders for decades in order to avoid doing to them, what they have done to their victims. But we still kill a few of them.
This issue of being humane to killers who have not been very humane themselves has painted us into this awkward corner. We haven’t minded offing thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who never attacked us; forget the maimed and crippled who only wish they were dead. But we agonize over the few we actually execute for crimes and we desperately need a solution. Fortunately, a dead French doctor pursued the same problem to a solution and a sitting Federal judge has now recommenced that solution. Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed his humane execution device just in time for the French Revolution, which unfortunately, gave it a bad name.
The Guillotine is instant, painless and reliable, unlike any other. Cheap, too. And unlike most of the historical methods, none have ever survived it to remain embarrassingly alive. And it has been recalled from history to be recommended by an American Federal judge. We are less squeamish than we pretend; while we object to executing murderers, we have no such qualms with unborn babies, right? So if we’re serious about being humane, we really ought to consider His Honor’s solution …