US Catholic Faith in Real Life

States are going "retro" to kill their citizens

By Kira Dault | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

It's getting more and more difficult to kill people these days. 

What I mean by that is that the standard method of execution--death by lethal injection--is becoming a rather fraught method these days. This is because the drugs that are used in lethal injection are becoming difficult, nigh unto impossible, to get. Sodium thiopental had been the preferred drug in lethal injections, but it is no longer manufactured in the U.S., and the European Union has banned the export for the purposes of lethal injection. Pentobarbital is another drug that can be used in lethal injections, but it, too, is becoming difficult for states to access. Pharmacies and manufacturers are feeling skittish about selling their drugs for the purpose of execution. So states have been getting the drugs through other means: compounding pharmacies or some such. (We don't necessarily know where exactly the states are getting their drugs, because many of them refuse to disclose the sources.)

Because the drugs have become scarce, however, we've seen some experimentation with executions as of late. In Ohio, Dennis McGuire was executed an experimental drug cocktail that has not been used before, and he took 25 agonizing minutes to die. After reviewing that execution, Ohio decided that the next time, they would just use a higher dose. Likewise, in Oklahoma three weeks ago, Clayton Lockett died of an alleged heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began, and ten minutes after the execution was called off because something was wrong.

So now we find ourselves in limbo. It's becoming increasingly apparent that lethal injection is not the humane way to kill people that we thought it was. Furthermore, even if states want to continue to use lethal injection, the drug shortage is making it difficult and nearly impossible. So this seems like it would be an excellent time for us to stop and to reflect. We might call this an opportunity. A chance to push the "pause" button on executions and think about whether this is in fact the nation that we want to be. 

Except that does not seem to be happening. Instead, there are some states who, in light of the lethal injection crisis, are grasping for whatever is within their reach to make sure that they have the tools at their disposal to kill people. Wyoming and Utah are considering a return to death by firing squad, and yesterday, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee signed a law that would make the electric chair mandatory when lethal injection drugs become unavailable. 

This scrambling to reclaim older methods of execution has left me bewildered. Why the mad dash to assure the capacity to execute? Why not take a beat, take a breath, and ask ourselves whether this is the kind of nation that we want to be? 

I understand the visceral and gut-wrenching response to murder. Clayton Lockett and Dennis McGuire were guilty of their crimes, which were horrific. But the death penalty says so much more about us as a nation and as a society than it says about those we choose to put to death. What would it mean for us if we chose to believe that no human being is beyond redemption, that no one is beyond reconciliation?