SADOW: The Legislature Has More Work To Do On Capital Punishment

Perhaps it’s best that the Legislature passed on enacting a bill that tweaked Louisiana’s procedures for capital punishment, as more needs doing to ensure that these sentences get levied appropriately.

HB 328 by state Rep. Joe Lopinto would have allowed purchase of the combination of drugs required to produce a lethal injection formula, compounded for executions that minimizes suffering of the guilty, from out-of-state pharmacies and for information regarding suppliers and participants in the process to be kept confidential. Many states have experienced difficulty in getting such chemicals because manufacturers of them face intimidation from vocal minorities against the idea of capital punishment that, if they sell these, negative public relations campaigns against them will be engaged in, leading them reluctant to sell these if knowledge of that becomes public.

In effect, this activism attempts to veto by other means, through preventing the practice from being carried out, the sensible public policy of the use of a death penalty. The fact is that allowing capital punishment makes society better off by saving lives, in three ways. First, it has a proven deterrent effect that preserves the innocent. Second, it protects from those not deterred by ensuring that they never again can threaten society that provides them targets, where they may access those targets through various means such as judicial incompetence that allows them out of prison, within prisons where they have the chance to murder correctional employees and fellow prisoners, and/or by escape. Third, their eternal souls may be saved by having to face execution, for impending death provides a terrific incentive to focus on this aspect of their existence that without they may otherwise never explore, resisting the knowledge that the owner of the vineyard is like God the Father, and that salvation thus can come at any time, even the at the end of life.

But at the same time, capital punishment is a brutal solution that, for reasons that St. John Paul elegantly eludicated, must happen only when absolutely necessary. And the difficulty presented by the means of lethal injection to ensuring the relative rarity is it almost makes the process too clinical, too sanitized, too (to use the word of Vice Pres. Joe Biden in describing Pres. Barack Obama while they ran for the presidency in 2008) “clean.”

By making the execution process hardly any different than putting down a suffering family pet, it desensitizes us to the horror intrinsic to capital punishment. By contrast, going about doing it should provoke and remind society that by nature it represents an assault on the concept that human lives are sacrosanct and that to give the state power over them for even the most compelling reasons invites tyranny over and degradation of them. Any execution should invite us to reflect upon the power of the state, to resolve to keep it in check, to increase efforts and deliberation to ensure that the innocent never suffer because of it, and to abhor it as an unpleasant duty to perform in order to save others.

Thus, it would seem that alternative execution methods, in their more graphic nature, would serve better in prompting this kind of reflection from the public. Several venerable ones exist that, if done correctly (as must lethal injection), provide a minimum of suffering for the guilty, for not to try to minimize suffering embraces the very horrific nature of capital punishment that instead should meet with repulsion. They all have in common that, through the visible physical damage done, they manifest the obvious and abrupt ending of a human life at the hands of others, even if justified. They better signal to us that what they did was repugnant yet necessary.

While this unlikely described the thinking behind the original version of the bill, it did propose to reinstate electrocution as a means of execution. Resistance to that excised this portion of it before eventually it stalled, but this decision bears reconsideration in the future. Getting rid of lethal injection because it makes carrying out a death sentence seem too effortless and painless in favor of other methods that generate minimal suffering of the guilty and also exposes better the revolting quality of it all to everybody else not only achieves a more helpful conceptualization of capital punishment as a public policy tool, but it also moots the necessity of finding ways to cancel the effects of impassioned minorities seeking to impose their mistaken morality over the will of the majority.

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