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.
From a fiscal perspective, capital punishment should be an outrage to taxpayers. According to Amnesty International, death penalty cases are three to ten times more expensive from prosecution to execution than those that end with life in prison. This price tag is especially outrageous considering that the death penalty has not been found to deter violent criminals from committing heinous acts, according to a literature review by the National Research Council. Worst of all, the average length of time a death row inmate spends in prison between conviction and execution is 14.8 years, giving both convicts and their victims’ families years of anguish.
Death row defendants may offer other options like the firing squad as a solution to lethal injections’ ills. However, no alternative can shorten the drawn-out appeals process that inevitably arises in each death row case. Be it by lethal injection, firing square, or a hangman’s noose, the death penalty will leave victims’ families waiting years for closure. The more humane solution to relieve suffering, save tax dollars, and keep the state’s monopoly of violence in check is to sentence convicted killers to life in prison, where they will spend the rest of their existence living with the agony of their crime. Isn’t that punishment enough?