Monday, January 07, 2008

Death Penalty goes before the Supreme Court

This tidbit from National Public Radio this morning:

The State of Kentucky is going before the US Supreme Court to argue, contrary to claims to the contrary, that its use of the "three-drug cocktail" for lethal injections in administering the death penalty is just fine, that there is nothing wrong with either the mixture or the administration. (As a Christian and lawyer, I'm interested that this case is "pure" in what it's facing: Here there is no question of the defendant's guilt or innocence; he has confessed. And while I can't imagine that he's going softly into the good night, the only point of contention in the suit before the Supremes is how he should die. We should all be aware of the distressingly high number of cases where the death penalty is imposed on innocent defendants -- or at least on those who are not legitimately found guilty.)

The State's legal (and moral) arguments must be read in the context of findings and decision by the veterinary profession in this country: Veterinarians have abandoned the very same cocktail, which was once standard for for euthanizing animals, because it caused excessive and inhumane pain to the subject animals. They use a different mixture that avoids the pain.

So, the way I read it, the State of Kentucky (I suppose along with the 35 other states that use the same cocktail -- which by the way, has not changed in formulation since it replaced such other forms of killing as hanging and the electric chair) is in the position of arguing that what is cruel and unusually painful practice for killing animals is fully justified in killing human beings. We can only wonder about the physicians who are complicit in the use of the cocktail and the medical personnel who administer the drugs (always from a different room than the death chamber)!

And some pooh-poohed Pope John Paul II's chagrin at the twentieth (and twenty-first) century's culture of death?

Kyrie eleison!

What follows is far from a new thought, but it nevertheless bemuses me, I guess, that many of the same people who argue so strenuously for the "right to life" for fetuses completely abandon the argument when it comes to the death penalty. There are, of course, often differences of "fault" in the two situations. But I regularly hear that, even when the fetus poses a threat to the mother's life, there is no justification for abortion. (See, for example, the number of proposed statutes that make no provision for safeguarding the mother's life.) It is a consistent, no-just-war posture toward fetuses. But once the child is born, all bets are apparently off. At that point, state-sponsored terrorism against living people is fine. (And you will note that this line of logic operates in reverse among so-called liberals: Forget the fetus, but defend the convicted murderer.)

Once again, we are brought face-to-face with the failure of the Church, with the exception of the late and latest Popes, to be the Church in the face of the world's policies: The Church is called to an life of nonviolence; for Christians killing is not an option. We Christians need to speak more clearly about this -- and more importantly, we need to refuse to participate in state-sanctioned murder. I think that means, in addition to filing for conscientious-objector status with respect to statist warmaking, that Christians do not perform or assist in abortions, do not prescribe or administer lethal cocktails (I haven't decided whether this sanction extends to veterinary practice, where I think there are differences from human medicine -- not the least of which is that animals are not and/or cannot be considered candidates for being baptized. Animals are, thus, not fellow or potential fellow members of the Body of Christ), do not participate in police work that involves shooting others, participate in research in to any means of making death.

That's a hard line to hold: "What will happen to society?" I am asked. "God only knows," I answer, implying thereby that that's not so bad. If we are a people who fulfill our identity as the Body of Christ, will we not hunger and thirst for righteousness -- i.e., as one friend puts it, for life congruent with that of God's life and intentions for our lives? Can we hunger and thirst for righteousness if we place whole chunks of our lives outside his reign?

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