Monday, January 20, 2014

Above All, Do No Harm

"A humane, dignified execution." These were the words used by Ohio prison director Gary Mohr as he describes what he hoped his state would be giving convicted killer Dennis McGuire last Thursday. While there is no doubt that the dignity of Mister McGuire's passing surpassed that of his victim's by measurements used only in figuring distances between galaxies, the question of "cruel and unusual punishment" is one that came up. The idea that we are just putting our murderers to sleep and out of our collective misery is a troubling one, if not unfounded. Stopping someone's heart and lungs doesn't usually fall in the category of "pleasant and usual."
The pain and suffering inflicted upon pregnant newlywed, Joy Stewart back in 1989 by McGuire was a crime. The rape and fatal stabbing of another human being should not go unpunished. How do we teach "Thou shalt not kill?" It is ironic that the old method that used a different drug never caused the kind of gasping and snorting that occurred over a twenty-five minute period after McGuire was injected. The new mixture of chemicals came into use after supplies of a previously used drug dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment. Intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone are now being used.
Here's the thing that makes me wonder: Midazolam is used in a variety of different ways, including the emergency treatment of seizures in children. Hydromorphone is sometimes used recreationally, as many opiates are. All of those medical professionals who find themselves confronted with the Hippocratic Oath, specifically that part about "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel," who find themselves in situations where they swab an inmate's arm to ensure that they do not receive any kind of infection, then continue to inject this lethal cocktail. Never do harm.
Unless the law decrees that they really deserve it. I guess I just don't get it.

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