Time hasn’t allowed me to post since early this month. Well, actually, it wasn’t time as such, just my lack of free time.
I didn’t think, though, that I’d do two posts on capital punishment in short order, but somehow the news just makes it possible. Sad, huh? Two news items caught my interest in the last week.
The first was a U. S. Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty was illegal for people with mental disability. The Court basically ruled that Florida’s cut-off score of 70 was too rigid. The Court ruled in 2002 in Atkins vs. Virginia that states could not execute people with mental disabilities, but left it to the states to define mental disabilities.
The second was an article that appeared today about the Attorney General in Missouri seeking to have the state produce the drugs for lethal injection as traditional suppliers have decided to withhold these drugs for this purpose.
As for the first, I first heard it on the radio as I was driving home. It almost sounded surreal. When you think about it, we’re debating how smart a person has to be to qualify for the death penalty. I kept thinking, “This is craziness. We’re still talking about state sanctioned killing. This wouldn’t be an issue if we banned capital punishment.”
We can argue that barring the execution of people with mental disabilities shows compassion on the part of the state. But aren’t we supposed to show compassion to everyone?
Practically, how does a state decide who is mentally disabled enough to warrant execution? OK, so the state abandons a rigid standard such as 70 on an IQ test, especially given the +/- 5 margin of error. A follow up article in the New York Times noted that other factors might have to come into play: how the defendant functioned in society, grades in school, ability to groom and dress, follow instructions, and do certain jobs. And though these other factors offer more latitude, who determines the standard. Furthermore, that standard can vary from state to state so that what might be deemed mentally disabled in one state would not be in another. It’s really an arbitrary standard.
Missouri really blew me away, though. When we look at other industrialized nations, the signs indicate that capital punishment is inhumane. We’re one of a handful that still permits it. Indeed the other industrialized nations permitting capital punishment are: China, Taiwan, Japan, and India. When European suppliers refuse to ship the drugs, isn’t that another sign?
It seems that states are trying to figure a way around the drug issue. Methods of punishment deemed inhumane previously such as the electric chair and firing squad are seriously being reconsidered in light of the botched execution earlier this month. Doesn’t that tell us that humane/inhumane is not really clear in our minds? Or maybe we really don’t care since we still want to pursue capital punishment despite the obstacles.
Missouri, however, wants to go into the drug manufacturing business for the purpose of killing people. If I lived in Missouri, not only will my tax dollars pay for executions, they would pay for the manufacturing of the drugs. I find it disturbingly sick that the state will take the task of making lethal drugs upon itself.
When our compassionate response to people with mental disabilities is not to execute them, why can’t we understand that everyone deserves the same compassion?