Friday, October 18, 2013

Medical experiments and murder

The Sunshine State was so desperate to kill William Happ this week that they used an untested drug as the sedative in their lethal cocktail. The three-drug protocol calls for a sedative to be pumped into the condemned man's vein. The sedative is followed by a drug that paralyzes the inmate which is followed by a drug that induces cardiac arrest.

The idea is that the sedative will help the inmate slip into unconsciousness so that he is unaware of the paralysis that is to follow. If everything works as planned, when cardiac arrest is induced the inmate will feel no pain.

But the State of Florida found itself in a bit of a pickle. Being that the supply of pentobarbital has dried up due to the manufacturer's objection to its drug being used to kill people, the death machine needed new fuel. They decided to use an untested sedative - midazolam hydrochloride - as the first course.

Now aside from the fact that the entire procedure is utterly barbaric and that we should be ashamed, as a society, that we murder inmates for the sake of revenge, this antiseptic form of murder is used to assuage those among us who might oppose the use of the electric chair, the gallows or the firing squad.

William Happ committed a horrible crime and he caused irreparable damage to a family who lost a loved one. For his actions Mr. Happ deserved to be punished by the society whose mores he violated. But Mr. Happ shouldn't have been used as a guinea pig or a lab rat to see if a new drug cocktail would work.

The drug is used as an anesthetic. The literature seems to indicate that a person could be fully anesthetized in a matter of a few minutes. But no one has ever tested the drug to see how it reacts with the other drugs in the lethal cocktail or to determine whether or not a person sedated with it feels any pain when cardiac arrest is induced.

I'm sure there are those who couldn't care less if Mr. Happ suffered excruciating pain while being executed. There are those who probably wished he suffered more than he may or may not have. For folks of that bent, there is very little I can say that would change their minds regarding the death penalty -- I can only hope that one day they might achieve enough enlightenment to understand how the use of capital punishment demeans our entire society.

Mr. Happ was a person. No matter how badly he behaved, he was still one of us. Even though he had been banished from society, he was still a living, breathing person. His death brought no one back to life. His death healed no scars or filled any voids. There was no purpose in killing him other than to do so because the men and women on that jury were really, really mad at him. But does that make it right to kill?

Does having a piece of paper signed by a judge authorizing the state to take the life of another make it right? Does that piece of paper make what the state did any different that what Mr. Happ did? There is no sanctity in that piece of paper. Innocent men have been convicted and sent to death row over and over again. That piece of paper signed by the jury foreman didn't make it right. That judgment signed by the judge didn't make it right. The decisions by the appellate courts didn't make it right.

A piece of paper is nothing more than a piece of paper.

We will never know what Mr. Happ went through as he lay there on the gurney with an IV in his arm. There's no one who can tell us. And that should be disturbing. We should all be outraged that the State of Florida decided to use an untested drug to kill a man just because the law said they had to kill him.

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