When Lady Justice takes a count of bleeding hearts outside the execution chamber, she won’t find mine among them.
I am no passionate opponent of the death penalty. I am rather a dispassionate objector to the premise that taking another’s life, no matter how undeserving he or she may be to draw another breath, brings anything resembling justice to a society too in love with revenge.
We’ve Dirty-Harry’d ourselves into believing that one bad act deserves another. Emotionally, this seems inarguable. But the rational mind should struggle with what makes no logical sense. An eye for an eye merely leaves two sockets vacant.
The recent horror show in Oklahoma where convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett’s execution went awry has revived debate about the death penalty. Apparently, one of Lockett’s veins blew and the three-drug cocktail failed to kill him quickly — and humanely. Instead, he convulsed and remained alive for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack.
Reactions have ranged from “who cares?” to renewed protests from abolitionists. The first group consists mostly of people who knew Lockett’s victim or were members of her community. The latter, often dismissed as elitist intellectuals with no direct experience, has focused primarily on whether the procedure in question was “inhumane.”
Humane death most Americans find acceptable, while death that involves suffering offends our sensibilities as well as the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Viewed from the humane perspective, the challenge is to find better ways for the state to kill in its execution of justice. Or, in its prosecution of state-sanctioned revenge, depending on how one sees things.
Either way, no one disagrees that Lockett’s crime falls into the category of heinous and no one would recommend leniency. The question is whether between death and leniency there isn’t some punishment that serves both justice and our own humanity.