In the past, death penalty abolitionists have attacked electrocution, hanging and firing squads as cruel and inhumane. At one point some death penalty opponents even suggested that states adopt lethal injections as a more humane form of execution. The debate over whether the use of lethal injections to administer capital punishment is inhumane is pointless. Whatever the form of execution, the momentary pain suffered by the convicted killers pales into insignificance when compared with the pain the murderer has inflicted upon his victims and their families.
Rather than focusing attention on the pain suffered by the convicted killer, the focus should be on the pain suffered by the victim and the victims' families.One way that society expresses its concern about the murdered victim is through the use of the death penalty - which provides some retribution for the crime.
Most victims' rights groups and the overwhelming majority of Americans support the use of the death penalty. However, the will of the people is regularly frustrated by capital punishment abolitionists who repeatedly devise new and often bizarre attacks on the death penalty.
Opponents of the death penalty generally claim that every form of execution is inhumane. In the past, death penalty abolitionists have attacked electrocution, hanging and firing squads as cruel and inhumane.
At one point some death penalty opponents even suggested that states adopt lethal injections as a more humane form of execution.
Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, a longtime death penalty foe, stated in a dissenting opinion in one death penalty case that lethal injection might be preferable to use of the electric chair. It was in response to the critics of electrocutions, hangings and the firing squad that many states began to adopt lethal injections as an alternative, more humane, method of execution.
However, when some states adopted lethal injection, the hue and cry of the death penalty opponents was raised, claiming that lethal injections are cruel and inhumane.
There is no way that the death penalty abolitionists can be satisfied short of abolishing capital punishment. No matter what method of execution is adopted, the death penalty opponents will claim that it is inhumane. As long as opponents of particular forms of execution continue to oppose all executions, their opposition must be viewed for what it is - merely a back-door attempt to abolish capital punishment.
Undoubtedly there are some opponents of lethal injection who do not oppose all capital punishment; just as there are opponents of other forms of capital punishment who favor lethal injections. However, it does not matter if a convicted killer suffers a little more pain if one method of execution is chosen over another. The crimes committed by these killers are so heinous that society should not be concerned with whether the murderer suffers some temporary pain.
Finally, there is no credible legal argument for the proposition that lethal injections violate the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The courts have consistently rejected claims that the death penalty is cruel because the executed person suffers some pain.
Its time for the death penalty opponents to stop crying for convicted murderers and start showing more concern for the victims of violent crimes. To let a murderer sentenced to death escape execution because of a claim that lethal injections are cruel would be truly inhumane.
(John C. Sculley is an attorney with the Washington Legal Foundation.)