Full Disclosure: I am not a proponent of capital punishment. From the uncertainty of guilt, to the paradox of a civilized society taking human life, I truly have lots of doubts about capital punishment.
On the other hand, every so often a case will come along when I feel no regret at the execution of some child killer, rapist, or other random animal. When I read about Clayton Lockett’s botched execution in Oklahoma last week, his final minutes of suffering as the drugs failed to kill him, but did cause obvious agony, I wasn’t all that moved. This is the man who shot, raped, and buried his victim alive. Not a really sympathetic character, and I doubt that many felt sad about his eventual death from the heart attack brought on by his forty-three minutes of agony.
In the weeks leading to his execution, the media had been full of stories about how difficult it is becoming for capital punishment states to acquire the drugs needed for execution by lethal injection. Nobody wants to manufacture the drugs, or if they do, they prefer to remain anonymous, and it’s difficult to grow a business when you try to stay under the radar. Add the objections of so many that lethal injection is unconstitutional because it is inhumane, and the officials who have to enforce court orders for execution have a real problem. No solution will be implemented without a lot of objection, but ideally, we need to answer all claims of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The answer lies in decapitation.
No, this is not irony, sarcasm, or satire. I couldn’t be more serious. If we must kill the killers, the procedure needs to be quick, painless and certain. And nothing is more quick, painless and certain than the guillotine. Assuming that we are going to continue punishing murderers with capital punishment, and we want to do it without inflicting unnecessary pain, the choice is clear. The guillotine severs the spinal cord… no more sensation.
It’s messy, yes, but by that time the prisoner is no longer a part of the experience. If people are seriously concerned about mess, apply some of our famous modern technology to soak up the blood, and clamp the head in place so it doesn’t end up bouncing across the room. But don’t tell me that execution by beheading is more painful or barbaric than suspending someone by the neck until he eventually dies. Or taking a half hour to let an combination of injected drugs eventually kill a writhing, struggling, gasping prisoner. Or even going back to burning someone alive in the electric chair.
If we truly believe that execution is an appropriate punishment for some crimes, we have to accept that there will be final hours in the prisoner’s life, and those hours are going to be unbelievably difficult to endure. That’s a given, and it’s unavoidable. And, I submit, knowing that you are going to die instantly in a guillotine cannot be any worse than waiting for another process of execution. The pain is psychological, but physical pain is almost certainly eliminated, and if we have to do it, success is immediate and certain.
I opened this essay by pointing out that I often have doubts about the whole question of state sponsored execution, but I have no doubt, for the government that has decided execution is proper punishment for some crimes, the guillotine is the most humane method available. We could outline all sorts of reasons why capital punishment should be ended, but that is not going to happen in the United States. We have well over 3,000 people awaiting execution, and the least we can do is allow them to die a quick and painless death. If the mess of decapitation bothers someone’s sensibilities, that seems a small price to pay for avoiding the botched, drawn out, painful, and yes, messy executions that have become the norm.