Not for all the tea in China

Back in April there was a flurry of attention when the American state of Arkansas announced that it was planning to execute eight death row prisoners in eleven days.

The only complication appeared to be that they were running out of midazolam, a necessary ingredient in the process. Arkansas executes people by lethal injection.

It’s a few months later. For the record, Arkansas actually executed four of the eight men. Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones Jr, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams were all put to death.

This is not the point at which I’m going to argue about the history of the four men or the crimes they committed. I assume the men were guilty and that their crimes were horrific. My sympathies are for the victims and the victims’ families.

Push me to give an opinion and I’ll admit that I’m against the death penalty. For the record, I don’t think the state should kill. But the voters and government of Arkansas appear to think otherwise and I have a healthy respect for democracy.

No, I’m going to comment on the curiously roundabout way that they go about it.

I’m a fan of the James Bond movies but one of the more apt criticisms of the series is that when the chief baddie wants to kill Bond, he or she does so in an unusually complicated way. As critics point out, in real life it wouldn’t happen like that.

Now compare that to some real methods of execution:

  • The electric chair: a person is fastened to a chair and then electricity is run through their body.
  • The gas chamber: a person is put in an airtight chamber, which is then filled with poison gas.
  • Lethal injection: a person is strapped down and then injected with a series of poisons.

You’ve got to admit, that is Bond villain stuff.

From what I understand, in America it’s a simple matter to buy a handgun and heavy-duty ammunition. Given those items, a simple and effective execution method comes readily to mind.

Likewise, I believe that legalised lethal injection uses a complicated cocktail of drugs including the above-mentioned midazolam. Now, I don’t know much about drugs and nor do I care to, but even I know that there are much simpler ways to kill someone with a lethal injection.

Which makes me wonder if the clumsiness of official methods isn’t deliberate. Maybe roundabout methods are used because the people who have to legislate them don’t really have the stomach for it. And that makes me think: maybe it’s easier to support the death penalty when you’re running for office, than it is when you actually have to take responsibility for the process.

My own opposition comes via a thought experiment: imagine that a murderer is strapped and wired into an electric chair. Everything has been set up; it only remains for you to step forward and flip the last switch, to actually commence the process of lethal execution.

And it’s you who has to do it. Nobody else. You are the executioner.

Could you do it?

I couldn’t. Not for all the tea in China.

And that is why I’m opposed to the death penalty.

The Melancholy Roman