Sunday, 26 October 2014

Morality 21: Methods of Execution

Higher RMPS Podcast
Capital Punishment - Methods of Execution

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

Hanging is the execution of a criminal by placing a noose (the loop at the end of the rope) around the criminals head and allowing them to drop.  This either strangles them or breaks their neck, both ways resulting in death.  There have been many different methods used through the ages; however, there are two distinct methods: the imaginatively titled short drop and the long drop.
The Short Drop causes death by using the weight of the body to tighten the trachea with the noose.  Criminals are often reported to have little or no struggle before they go limp, because their jugular vein and carotid arteries are blocked and blood flow to the brain is reduced.  However, the placement of the noose is not precise and can take anywhere between a couple of minutes to 20 minutes to kill them.

The Long Drop was considered a humane improvement on the short drop because it was intended to be enough to break the person's neck, causing immediate paralysis and death.  The Long Drop, also known as the measured drop, was introduced to Britain in 1872 by William Marwood as a scientific advancement to the standard drop.  Instead of everyone falling the same standard distance, the person's height and weight were used to determine how much slack would be provided in the rope so that the distance dropped would be enough to ensure that the neck was broken but not so much that the person was decapitated.  The careful placement of the eye or knot of the noose between the 2nd and the 5th vertebrae (so that the head was jerked back as the rope tightened) ensured the criminal’s neck was broken.
This method was used to execute condemned Nazis after the Nuremberg Trials.  In the execution of Ribbentrop, historian Giles MacDonogh records that: "The hangman botched the execution and the rope throttled the former foreign minister for twenty minutes before he expired."  The last hanging in Britain took place in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester were executed for the murder of John Alan West.

Strengths:  As a form of retribution, is allows families are allowed to be present for the hanging.  It may act as a strong deterrent as if other see it then they may think twice about killing.  If done right then it can be an instant death.  The cost is a length of rope, therefore it’s cheap.

Weaknesses: Some have taken up to twenty minutes to die, causing a long and cruel death.

Where used?  Still uses in India, Iran, Iraq, and Singapore.

Lethal Injection
Lethal Injection is an execution method that involves injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs causing the immediate death.  Lethal injection gained popularity in the twentieth century as a form of execution over other methods, notably electrocution, hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, and beheading, which were considered to be more painful.  It is now the most

common form of execution in the USA.  On May 11, 1977, Oklahoma's state medical examiner, Jay Chapman, proposed a new, less painful method of execution, known as Chapman's Protocol.

The condemned is strapped onto a table with two extended supports (like a crucifix) where their arms are strapped down.  An intravenous cannula (a needle) is inserted in each arm; one to carry out the execution and the other as a backup.  A saline solution (salt water) solution is then slowly started in both arms to make sure the lines are not blocked and to prevent them from blocking when the drugs are injected.  The intravenous injection is a series of drugs given in sequence.  The first drug is Sodium Pentobarbital, an ultra-short action barbiturate which will cause unconsciousness and slow the criminals breathing.  This one drug can cause death by stopping the criminals breathing or stopping their heart.  The second drug that is given is Pancuronium Bromide, which is a muscle relaxant that causes complete and fast paralysis of the muscles, including the diaphragm and the rest of the respiratory muscles which is guaranteed on its own to cause death by asphyxiation.  Finally Potassium Chloride is given which stops the heart.  All three drugs on their own are capable of killing independently; however, all three are said to guarantee death.  The drugs cost $85 making the procedure relatively cheap.

Despite the purported cheap cost of Lethal Injection Amnesty International estimates that the cost of the appeals process, incarceration, and final execution is $1.26M, 70% more than keeping them in prison.  Opponents argue that the method is flawed.  Personnel administering the lethal injection lack expertise and the risk of failing to induce unconsciousness is greatly increased.   Jay Chapman said on the matter "It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs."  On occasion, there have also been difficulties inserting the intravenous needles, sometimes taking over half an hour to find a suitable vein.  Opponents argue that the insertion of intravenous lines that take excessive amounts of time are tantamount to being cruel and unusual punishment.

On July 23, 2014, Joseph Wood was scheduled to die by Lethal Injection in Arizona.  After the chemicals were injected, Mr. Wood repeatedly gasped for one hour and 40 minutes before death was pronounced.  During the ordeal, Mr. Wood’s attorneys filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court and placed a phone call to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in a failed effort to halt the botched execution.  A reporter for the Arizona Republic who witnessed the execution, Michael Kiefer, said that he counted 640 gasps from Wood before he finally died.  Post-execution autopsy showed that the cannula had went through the vein into soft tissue meaning the drugs would have taken much longer to be absorbed into his system.

The People's Republic of China used to execute prisoners exclusively by means of shooting, but has been changing over to lethal injection in recent years.  The specific lethal injection procedures, including the drug or drugs used, are a state secret and not publicly known.

Strengths:  If done right, Lethal Injection is painless and a more calm, and dignified way of executing a criminal.  The cost of the drugs that kill are relatively cheap and east to source.

Weaknesses: There are many reports of the drugs being ineffective at knocking the criminal out causing them distress and pain.  Unqualified prison staff are charged with inserting the needles, not doctors or nurses.  This can lead to them missing the vein or inserting it wrongly meaning the drugs don’t go into their veins but into the surrounding tissue meaning they won’t work.  The total cost of executing them is 70% more than keeping them in prison for their whole life.

Where used?  USA, Taiwan, and China.

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