Should the death penalty include abject suffering?

Headlines are being made about the suffering possibly endured by convicted murderer Dennis McGuire, who was put to death with a new and previously untried method by the state of Ohio on Jan. 16 as punishment for his killing of a pregnant woman years earlier. The state used a chemical injection never before utilized to put someone to death, despite warnings from some medical experts who said that the process might produce what was called “air starvation.”

NBC News quoted an Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution who wrote that McGuire, 53, “appeared to gasp several times and made several loud snorting or snoring sounds during a ‘prolonged’ execution,” which several news agencies said took nearly 26 minutes from start to finish. Other witnesses said that Mr. McGuire also clenched his fists repeatedly, and tried in vain to raise himself up from the table to which he was strapped, apparently gasping for air.

In short, it did not appear to be a peaceful death — leaving many to ask: Is paying with his life enough of a punishment for someone sentenced to death for a killing…or is it acceptable for that punishment to include abject end-of-life suffering and agony for nearly a half hour?

Yet the main question has been avoided through all the news stories and commentaries on this particular event: Is the death penalty itself appropriate in an enlighted society?

Our answer is no. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we are not going to solve society’s problems using the same energy that created them. We will not put an end to violence by using violence, an end to anger with anger, and an end to killing with more killing.

All we as a people are saying is that killing is perfectly okay when we believe that “right’ is on our side. But of course — with exceptions for those who are mentally incapacitated — all people and all governments thinks “right” is on their side when they kill, or they wouldn’t and couldn’t do it.

The central question then becomes: Is it ever “right” to kill people if one’s own life (or the life of others) is not in immediate danger?

A man in Florida, a former police captain, pulled out a gun and killed another man with whom he was having an argument over texting in a movie theatre because the other man threw a bag of popcorn at him, and the former police officer said he thought the other man was going to attack him. (Why he didn’t simply pull out the gun and say, “Not one step further….”, rather than shoot the man point blank in the chest from four feet away is not clear.) So now, once again in Florida, we are going to have a chance to see if that state’s Stand Your Ground law is going to be applied to justify killing someone.

Yet the question in this quarter is not, “What does the law say?” And not even, “What does our culture in general say?” But rather, “What does the Soul say?”

What does your Soul say? What do you believe is justification for killing someone? And if you agree that the State should have the right to kill someone because that person killed another — should the State’s execution include abject suffering?

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  • Sandy Lee Bureros

    It saddens me when I think of people being killed over something that could be avoided. I am reading more and more about children killing children in schools. People shooting people over texting, driving anger and just plain frustration with life. There is a better way. If we could just open our hearts and help each other. Parents leave their children unhappy by giving them material things and not hugging them. People who are frustrated could go for help. As for corporal punishment, it hasn’t solved crime in any way shape or form. Sometimes, people decide that the publicity the “criminal” receives is what they also want. To leave a legacy of some sort as distorted as this thinking may be. As in some San Francisco schools, maybe we should set aside an hour a day for society to go quiet and look deep inside for the peace we all need.

  • Leslie A. Neilson

    The world is suffering from what I refer to as “Spiritual Amnesia.” Most are functioning from the “ego-mind” instead of the “Spiritual-Heart,” The ego mind (mortal) draws from the pit of fear, whereas the spiritual heart (soul) draws from the source . . . which is pure, divine love. We are all in the process of “remembering” our divinity. We are in the process of dismissing the illusion that we are “separate.” There are actions of others that do not resonate with me on a soul level, yet I have come to understand that the earth and humanity are going through a “birthing process.” The birthing process can be painful, but as we “experience it” we trust that something beautiful can evolve from what seems to be unnecessary pain. To let go of judgement is one of the highest opportunities that we can face as mortals. As your book THE LITTLE SOUL AND THE SON notes, we have played roles for each other, and those roles are intended to “BUILD US” as divine beings. I am choosing to trust in the process. The spiritual heart feels the energy of injustice, disservice, ignorance, disharmony, discontent, separation, anger,and other birthing pains that are inducing the metamorphosis of this earth, YET it KNOWS that humanity is changing and evolving despite the manifestations of lack of love all around us. One voice can make a difference by choosing to hold a space of love despite the actions of insanity. Whenever we act out of character, we simply have “FORGOTTEN” who we are. ~ Leslie A. Neilson (Motivational/ Inspirational Author)

  • flojones

    Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Be the change that you want to see in the world. Gandhi

    As long as or society (public authorities and individuals) condemns individuals it condemns itself to stay in its own lack of consciousness because being unable to look at itself without judging itself and condemning itself, the society can’t evolve toward more understanding, more compassion, more peace and it is left trapped by its own guilt without solution to get out of its fear. Healing hardly occurs out of condemnation and guilt.
    Applied humanism would start by stopping this vicious circle of judgement, guilt, fear, violence, judgement, guilt, fear, violence, judgement, guilt, fear, violence, etc, etc…. Politician and people in power, whose power come from the fear of others, won’t stop it as long as they think it’s not in their own best interest.
    Fortunately we can apply this right now in our own daily life and change some of our world…

  • Leah H

    None have the Right to take the Life of another, especially when killing is planned, premeditated, which is what Execution is together with War. Murder in the 1st degree. To agree with such behaviour and actions is to become one, that is a murderer by consent. We do not agree with Execution, and death Penalties. In memory of James Hanratty hanged in the UK in 1962 based on flimsy evidence, later found to have been wrongly executed and which brought about the abolition of The Death Penalty in the UK in 1965. Just how does one give back a life taken ?

  • Joyce Derby

    It amazes me how many people claim to be Christians, tell you the Bible is God’s holy word, and yet believe the death penalty is justified. The 10 Commandments clearly state, “Thou shalt not kill”. No where does it say “Thou shalt not kill unless you believe it is justified.”