COMMENTARY | Execution by lethal injection, which is nearly universal in the United States, has been taking a hit recently due to shortages of the drugs and claims by death penalty opponents that the method is not as humane as many think.
This has led some states to go back to the future in the way the put down people guilty of capital murder. As the Washington Post notes, a number of states allow electrocutions, the gas chamber, hanging, and the firing squad. These methods may come more back in vogue if it becomes more difficult to kill murderers with a lethal injection. That may provide death penalty opponents more ammunition.
The reason most states switched to lethal injections is that it seemed to be not only a more humane method of execution, but one that was less – for the want of a better term – gross. Putting someone to death, even someone who richly deserves it, can be unsettling to many. This is especially true if the execution is botched and the criminal suffers before going to that final judgment. Even lethal injection, which is supposed to be as neat and painless as putting a sick pet to sleep, has been known to go wrong, as it recently did in Oklahoma.
Whether or not a method of execution can be found that is consistently painless and humane is likely beside the point. Death penalty opponents are the way they are because emotionally they are aghast at the idea that the state should kill anyone. Supporters, on the other hand, are just as aghast at the idea of certain criminals being allowed to breath air. Thus far the latter view is winning out, mainly because that the details of what some of these criminals did to put them on the gurney are so horrible that one might be moved to want them to suffer. The debate is not likely to be settled any time soon.