FILE - In this Nov. 2005 file photo, public information director Larry Greene is shown in the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.  Ohio prison officials said Friday, Oct. 4, 2013,  they are keeping their primary lethal injection drug in place despite the state

The Death Penalty Is Big Government At Its Worst

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Casey Given
Editor, Young Voices
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      Casey Given

      Casey Given is a DC-based editor and policy commentator for Young Voices. Previously, Casey worked as a state policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, where he managed the organization’s labor and education portfolio. His writings on the topics have appeared in Education Week, The Hill, and The Wall Street Journal. Casey holds a rhetoric degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Libertarians and conservatives have long thought that killing people is just about the only thing that government is good at. Now, it appears they can’t even do death right.

On Wednesday night, convicted double-murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood suffered an agonizing two-hour execution after the State of Arizona pumped his veins with a secret cocktail of drugs. Witnesses say Wood “gulped like a fish on land” and gasped for air approximately 640 times before finally expiring 1 hour and 57 minutes after injection. Such a grisly scene should give any advocate of limited government pause, especially considering the tremendous costs of the death penalty in both money and suffering.

Wednesday’s episode comes on the heels of another controversial execution in May, when Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack nearly an hour after a failed injection that collapsed his veins in Oklahoma. Wood and Lockett join the 7 percent of executions gone awry in the US since 1890 according to the Guardian. Sadly, botched executions seem to be on an upswing since 2011 because of the increasing difficulty states are experiencing in obtaining crucial lethal injection chemicals.

Over the past few years, U.S. companies have increasingly refused to sell sodium thiopental — a key ingredient in an effective lethal injection formula — out of moral objections to the death penalty. In 2011, the last American supplier stopped making it, and the European Union instituted an export ban of the drug to the U.S. to support its goal of “universal abolition” of the death penalty. In the years hence, states have been experimenting with new injection mixtures, often refusing to disclose what drugs are being used and pharmacies they are being obtained from.

Since the Constitution protects convicts from “cruel and unusual punishments,” many legal challenges have been launched asserting that state must guarantee a relatively painless death through tested drugs. However, some states have taken a habit of executing inmates while their challenges are still spending — such as Missouri, which has done so three times recently.

Naturally, some will question what the point of worrying about states’ execution procedures if they ultimately end with the inmate dead. Even if convicted murderers experiences more pain than they should in a properly administered execution, isn’t it justified considering the suffering they’ve inflicted upon their victims?

Given the fact that the federal and state governments toss thousands of citizens in prison each year for purchasing illegal drugs, it’s outright hypocritical for them to do the same and not be held accountable. Besides the war on drugs, the state’s monopoly of violence is an incredible power that should constantly be checked lest it be abused. We are left to wonder what could be next if executions continue so recklessly without regard to human dignity — which leads to the question of whether they should take place in the first place.