Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Florida: Number One in sunny beaches, number one in orange juice and number one in...botched executions

Down in Florida, the Governor's Commission on the Administration of Lethal Injection continues its work. The commission's charge, as best as I can understand it, is to come up with the "right" way to conduct lethal injection executions. (This is, of course, in light of December's botched execution of Angel Nieves Diaz.)

We at Abolish the Death Penalty would like to comment on the absurdity of a government body struggling to arrive at the "best" way to kill someone, but we for once are rendered speechless. Instead, we'll let the following two editorials do our talking for us:

The state can't execute

Florida pays an executioner $150. On the street, that amount wouldn't buy a very professional killing. It's no different when the state pays.

Testifying a week ago in Tampa before a special panel, the executioner who botched the Dec. 13 lethal injection of Angel Nieves Diaz said, "I have no medical training or qualifications." That would explain why needles that were supposed to go into Diaz's veins instead went into his soft tissue.

The poison thus took far longer to be absorbed. The death that was supposed to take about 15 minutes took twice that time. There were chemical burns on both of Diaz's arms.

This is where people might ask, How long did it take for the topless-bar manager Diaz murdered in 1979 to die? The question is understandable but irrelevant. Like the other 37 states that allow capital punishment, Florida can't subject any condemned inmate - no matter how heinous the
crime - to cruel and unusual punishment. Anything less than a quick, clinical death violates that constitutional standard.

After the Diaz execution, Gov. Bush convened this panel to examine Florida's method of lethal injection. Florida is not alone. Ten other states are reviewing their lethal injection procedures because of problems. This panel could recommend changes to the Legislature before the
March session. For now, all executions are on hold.

Florida already had to start offering lethal injection after a botched electrocution in 1997. Using physicians might improve the lethal injection system, but doctors' groups don't want their members participating. The ideal - but politically unattractive, to some legislators - way out would be to end capital punishment. After all, there are 374 inmates on death row, and no one in Tallahassee seriously believes that all of them - or even most of them - will be executed. Also, in the 13 years since Florida has had a guaranteed sentence of life without parole, juries have been
less likely to recommend a death sentence.

The panel meets again Monday, trying to determine if a man who can't testify felt pain. Maybe the members can keep a straight face.

(source: Editorial, Palm Beach Post)


Florida death work

Presuming to sanitize the grotesque, dehumanizing work of the executioner
is a politically driven exercise in futility.

Was Angel Diaz's grotesque execution, simply, good enough for government work?

The official fantasy that lethal injection is a clean, painless, "human" method by which the state may end life was certainly exploded in December, when Diaz hung on for more than 20 minutes, gasping like a fish, and ultimately requiring a second dose of lethal chemicals, before he was
finally "put down."

In the political "post-mortum" that has unfolded since former Gov. Jeb Bush suspended executions and appointed a special commission to find out what went wrong, it has been learned that the official state executioner was badly trained, and that the official state "medical professional" did not even remain in the chamber for the duration of the death work. The
needles injected into Diaz went right through his veins and deposited a foot-long chemical "blister" in the tissue of his arms.

"They did exactly the wrong thing," Columbia University anesthesiologist Mark Heath said this week of the manner in which the three-drug "cocktail" was administered to Diaz. Apparently, even veterinarians won't use the state's "humane" process to put down animals.

We're not sure what's more astonishing about this past week's commission proceedings: That the state carries out its most somber duty - the taking of human life - in such haphazard and sloppy fashion? Or that this fact-finding exercise is intended to arrive at a new, improved and
sanitized death ritual.

What will the commission recommend: That the official executioner be better trained? That the official medical professional stay in the death chamber until the "patient's" heart stops beating? That veterinarians be enlisted to ensure a proper putting down?

The absurdity of these proceedings would be laughable if the consequences were not so deadly serious. A central dilemma facing the state is that the official executioner really ought to be the medical professional. But a true medical professional, bound by the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm," would not perform a procedure intended, after all, to harm, not to cure.

There is no "humane" way to kill. Execution, whether delivered by electricity, chemical or the rope, is a debasing act that dehumanizes the state and, by extension, all of its citizens. The notion that, somehow, a flawless, painless, "humane" procedure will lessen the debasement is as
grotesque as the clumsy performance that unfolded in Angel Diaz's death chamber.

(source: Editorial, Gainesville Sun)

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