Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Pain that Nobody Sees

The NYTimes editorializes that the method of lethal injections used by Florida is cruel and painful and therefore unconstitutional:
In a "friend of the court" brief, Physicians for Human Rights warned that if the chemicals weren't used correctly, they could "cause an inmate to suffocate, while consciously experiencing the blinding pain of" a coronary arrest. Meanwhile, it said, "onlookers believe him to be unconscious and insensitive to any pain."
The problem with all this is that the people making the argument believe that the death penalty is itself unconstitutional. So what difference does their opinion make about how it's administered? The pain they discuss is hypothetical, since there are no signs to the witnesses that it's happening. It could be argued that just the prospect of death is too horrifying to be considered constitutional, but that is obviously not what the drafters of the Constitution had in mind. They were talking about torture and grisly procedures like drawing and quartering, prolonging the suffering of the prisoner, etc.

Furthermore, the Constitution prohibits "cruel and unusual" punishment, not all cruel punishment. How would it be punishment without some kind of suffering? The whole idea of punishment requires some unpleasantness, such as denial of free movement, and the sense of justice that everybody is born with dictates that the punishment should approach the seriousness of the crime. The fact that we bend over backward to avoid mistakes and that murderers can drag out their punishment by so many years offends that sense of justice, which is the primary reason for having criminal courts in the first place. The procedure was devised to be painless, but if it isn't, tough. That's why it's call punishment.

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