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23 February 2006

The death penalty has to be one of the most ridiculous forms of punishment we have,  especially as it has evolved in recent years.

I will go on record as saying that I'm against the death penalty, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'm willing to consider that maybe killing someone is the proper response to a violent crime.

The case in point is the on-again, off-again execution of Michael Morales, convicted, here in California, of the 1981 murder of 17 year old Terri Winchell. 

There is no question that the crime was heinous.  Morales and his cousin Rick Ortega apparently kidnapped the girl, choked her with a belt, hit her with a hammer, raped her while she was unconscious and then and stabbed her to make certain she was dead.  Her body was left in a field, naked from the waist down, sweater and bra pulled up over her head. Ortega is serving out a life sentence without possibility of parole.  Morales was sentenced to be put to death, apparently based on information provided by a jailhouse informant, to whom Morales aparently confessed to the crime.

Morales' execution has twice been delayed in the last two days.  Why?  Because the California courts have decided that "lethal injection" may be an inhumane way to die and they ordered that the injection must be administered by a licensed physician, who presumably knows what he's doing and can make sure that it's done right.

(Interestingly, I was not surprised that the courts came down on the manner of lethal injection since apparently the last two prisoners who were executed took much longer to die than was anticipated.)

The AMA went up in arms, stating that ordering a physician to violate his Hippocratic oath ("first, do no harm...") was unethical.  The physicians who were ordered to participate in the execution ultimately refused to comply, based on ethical grounds.

Now does anybody see anything odd about this?

If we are going by the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" style of justice, who the heck cares whether the actual act of dying is painful or not?  The idea is that the guy die, right?  The victim died horribly, painfully...inhumanely.  Why not give the killer a taste of his own medicine.

So why not go for broke.   If you're going to put someone to death, why worry about "the most humane way" to put them to death?  Hey--some of that pain might even make the family of the survivors feel better.  A bit of the pain that the victim felt. 

Maybe the killers should be executed in the same manner as the victim.  Give some fellow inmates hammers and belts and knives and let them kill the guy.  That would really be "an eye for an eye," wouldn't it?

From 1976 to 2004, out of 944 executions: 776 have been by lethal injection, 153 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging, and 2 by firing squad.

Here's a description of execution by electrocution...the prisoner's eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner's flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire....Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber.

Death by gas chamber:  "At first there is evidence of extreme horror, pain, and strangling. The eyes pop. The skin turns purple and the victim begins to drool...The person is unquestionably experiencing pain and extreme anxiety...The sensation is similar to the pain felt by a person during a heart attack, where essentially the heart is being deprived of oxygen." The inmate dies from hypoxia, the cutting-off of oxygen to the brain"

Death by hanging:  Immediately before the execution, the prisoner's hands and legs are secured, he or she is blindfolded, and the noose is placed around the neck, with the knot behind the left ear. The execution takes place when a trap-door is opened and the prisoner falls through. The prisoner's weight should cause a rapid fracture-dislocation of the neck. However, instantaneous death rarely occurs.  If the inmate has strong neck muscles, is very light, if the 'drop' is too short, or the noose has been wrongly positioned, the fracture-dislocation is not rapid and death results from slow asphyxiation. If this occurs the face becomes engorged, the tongue protrudes, the eyes pop, the body defecates, and violent movements of the limbs occur.

Execution of a healthy person is not humane from the get-go.  I will never be convinced that ending someone's life (under the most humane conditions possible) is worse than condemning that person to live in prison without the possibility of parole.

While I have much sympathy for the family of the Terri Winchell, their reaction is also strange.  The father says that Morales has "won"... that he "got away with it."  Somehow being behind bars doesn't seem to qualify as punishment.

I understand their pain--I've buried children, I lost a sister to murder.  So I have an idea of how painful this is for them, but I hardly think that no matter what happens to Morales, he has actually "won" anything.

It could also be argued that bringing a person to the brink of death and then granting reprieve, twice, is pretty inhumane too.  (Except that he got a "last meal" twice.)

In the midst of all of this--courts ordering physicians to assist in killing someone in order to make certain that his death is "humane"-- I keep thinking how we have good old Dr. Kevorkian sitting in jail somewhere because he attempted to make certain that some people's deaths were humane.

Is there any logic here anywhere?

It's OK to kill what sounds like a brutal murderer, so long as it's done humanely... but to kill grandma because she is suffering unending, excruciating pain?  No, that's a crime and the doctor must go to jail for it.

Hey!  I have it!   Why not just move Kevorkian around to various prisons where executions are about to take place.  He's already shown that he is interested in humane ending of life.   He's a physician.  Just let him kill them. 

A win-win situation for all.

Sort of.

In Sedona, Arizona, Part 2, Paul discusses how he came to decide to go to Sedona--and how he nearly dies trying to get there.



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