If the United States insists on tolerating the death penalty, the guillotine is the the only acceptable means of carrying out executions.
As of this edition’s deadline, how Edmund Zagorski may die in Tennessee’s execution chamber wasn’t certain. Tennessee uses lethal injection, but offers the choice of the electric chair. Zagorski asked for that option because, he said, “it is the lesser of two evils.”
Leaving aside for the moment the ethical question of death as a penalty for crime, having been abolished as a routine practice by all but 54 countries since Venezuela banned it in 1863, lethal injection has become an unpredictable and inhumane method of killing someone.
Drugs taken by people who choose to end their own lives cause unconsciousness, impede breathing, stop the heart and result in death. Most people assume that giving a convicted felon this deadly combination of drugs is peaceful and painless, just like putting an animal “to sleep.” It isn’t.
Drug companies have become less and less comfortable with supplying drugs for executions in the last decade. Pfizer bowed out in 2016, effectively closing the ability of states to acquire the lethal-injection drugs they had used. The drugs left are no substitute.
The effects of the alternatives have become obvious, and they are barbarous.
In Oklahoma in 2014, Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after being injected with a questionable drug mixture. He showed clear signs of extreme duress, including being at least partially conscious, during the entire botched procedure.
Such unpredictable results have become too common to continue to believe that lethal injection will avoid the “unspeakable” horror of “10-18 minutes of drowning, suffocation, and chemical burning,” said Zagorski’s lawyer in the email requesting the electric chair.
Execution by electrocution also carries the risk of excruciating outcomes, as the movie “The Green Mile” showed in dramatic detail. No execution method spares prisoners, witnesses or executioners from trauma.
Death seems a righteous punishment for some horrific crimes. Imposing extreme pain and prolonged suffering does not. If both are true, the guillotine is a swift and certain means of execution.
Instead of choosing among ways to torture people or going down the bloody road of severing heads, states that have not done so could simply join the rest of the civilized world and abolish the death penalty.