Last week, in Iran, a convicted drug smuggler named Alireza was executed. At least that's what everyone thought. He was left dangling from the gallows for 12 minutes. A doctor checked to make certain he was dead (what Hippocratic Oath?).
Alireza's body was taken to the morgue. And that's where things got weird.
When his family arrived at the morgue to claim the body they found him breathing. He was taken to the hospital in order to recover so the state could take a second crack at killing him.
Not only has Amnesty International put out a call to spare his life, the Iranian justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, has also called on the government not to carry out a second execution.
This bizarre episode opens up an old question - what do you do when the inmate doesn't die?
It was not uncommon in the past for the electric chair not to work as planned. There are numerous examples across this country of men who were forced to sit through multiple jolts of electricity before they died. There was even an incident in Florida in which an inmate's head caught on fire.
With the drug cocktails used in lethal injection executions, we have no way of knowing how well the drugs worked. In the three drug cocktail the first drug is a powerful sedative that is supposed to cause the inmate to lose consciousness before the paralytic is injected. The third drug then induces cardiac arrest and causes the death of the inmate.
There is no way of knowing whether the first drug did what it was supposed to. Once the paralytic has been injected the inmate has no way to indicate whether he is experiencing excruciating pain. We just assume that he was knocked out by the first drug and was asleep when the next two drugs were administered. But, as to whether or not that's what happened, well, your guess is as good as mine.
While there are medical personnel on-site for an execution, not one of them is concerned with the well-being of the inmate. They are only there to provide cover for the state. Their job is to prep the inmate for the lethal injection and to administer the drugs. The only role for the physician on duty is to announce that the inmate is dead.
With the drying up of legal pentobarbital supplies, states such as Texas and Georgia, are turning to compounding pharmacies to manufacture the sedative. Unlike drug manufacturers, compounding pharmacies aren't subject to FDA regulation of their drugs. The drugs made in the compounding pharmacies are untested. The condemned inmate is nothing more than a guinea pig to the state and to the pharmacists who do the state's bidding.
Alireza was excecuted. He was pronounced dead by the doctor in attendance. His body was carted off to the morgue. The sentence was carried out.
It certainly isn't Alireza's fault he's alive today. I can't even begin to imagine the terror that must have gripped him as he hung there for 12 agonizing minutes. Twelve minutes of impaired breathing. Twelve minutes of intense pain in the neck. There can be few things more cruel than to be hanging unassisted for twelve long minutes.
Yet the state demands their pound of flesh. The state wants Alireza nursed back to health so they can try it all over again.
This is what the death penalty does to us. We demean life itself. We dehumanize the condemned inmate. We pervert the mission of doctors and other medical professionals. We lose all sense of perspective.
Since the state didn't grant life, the state shouldn't have the power to take it away. It is time we move away from this anachronistic viewpoint that there are some people in society who just don't deserve to live. That is an awfully arrogant position to take. And to allow a fallible institution that we created - the State - to exercise that very power is the height of folly.