All entries for Monday 24 April 2006

April 24, 2006

Death row injections and whether we have our priorities right

A New Scientist article from early last month discussed the ethics behind the US method of execution: lethal injection. At the end of February Californian officials delayed the execution of Michael Morales, sentenced to death for a murder he committed in 1981:

His lawyers argued that a lethal injection would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited under the US constitution. Their case was based on a study published last year in The Lancet (vol 365, p 1412) that suggested some inmates were given too little anaesthetic before receiving fatal doses of other drugs, and might therefore experience unnecessary pain. At a hearing set for May, the state of California must show that it has a lethal injection that does not kill in a cruel and unusual way. Several other states, including Florida, Maryland, Missouri and Texas, have similar cases pending. Medical opinion is not on their side.

I have blogged before about the possible objections to the treatment of inmates in prisons in this country. Many have expressed the view that prisoners should be punished for their crimes and that the current prison system is far too comfortable to be a proper deterrent or to reform anyone. Often inmates gain access to far more readily available medical treatment, health and exercise facilities than they would when free. Far more is spent on a meal for a prisoner than on one for a child in a state school.

A recent survey, I forget where I read it, considered the sensitive subject of the care of people dying naturally in the UK. I think the respondants indicated that approximately a third of deaths were not satisfactory: they didn't think that homes, hospitals or other organisations provided sufficient care to make the death of their loved ones as peaceful as possible. A recent survey of health workers (from a BBC news article) indicated that '69% admitted that many conditions suffered by the elderly, such as dementia, arthritis and sensory impairment, were overlooked… some 57% said they lacked training and support, and a quarter said they struggled to cope with dying patients.'

I know that these examples come from different countries controlled by different systems of law, but are we getting the balance right by worrying too much about some, who have indeed subverted our laws, when we're neglecting other law-abiding citizens?

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