Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another Argument Against the Death Penalty

In a recent pronouncement of The American Board of Anesthesiology, Inc., this organization has finally spoken against the use of their profession in a way that defies or ignores the Hippocratic Oath of preserving human life.

According to this document: "The majority of states in the United States authorize capital punishment, and nearly all states utilize lethal injection as the means of execution. However, this method of execution is not always straightforward (1), and, therefore, some states have sought the assistance of anesthesiologists (2). This puts anesthesiologists in an untenable position. They can assuredly provide effective anesthesia, but doing so in order to cause a patient’s death is a violation of their fundamental duty as physicians to do no harm."

Yes it IS! And to those that argue the rightfulness of the death penalty not-withstanding, this is the accurate and ethical reading of the Hippocratic oath. Yes it means that medical people should not participate in the death penalty, and yes it means that those involved in the medical professions should never consider dealing death as a part of their calling. While I strongly disagree with those that argue that it is the right of the state to take life, I also strongly disagree with those that would take life and couch it in terms that it is somehow "painless" or "humane." The problem is deeper than that. The argument that it is a reflection of biblical texts makes the issue a method in ethics in the christian west. That is, by the way, what we are.

We here in Texas have always enjoyed the strength of law and somehow pretend that the old Calvinist attitudes of the Anglo settlers here must prevail in the arguments of law and ethics. I am here to tell you that the old Spanish laws of anti-slavery could have prevailed in the old Texas, and the modern Catholic understanding of capital punishment deserve an audience. The old Spanish laws of preserving the right of women to own property were outside the common law of the United States and were a unique milestone in the US until much later. The modern view that the right of the state to take a human life is a throwback to an earlier and violent age when that was the only reserve of a state that had little alternative compared with the numbers of crimes committed in that day and age. We no longer live in that day or age and other considerations have to come to the forefront.

The death penalty has not proved to be a preventative measure to violent crimes, but it does provide the state with a lot of ethical problems. It appears that the best measure against violent crime is to have an armed and educated people that are trained to use their firearms and the willingness to only use them in times of severe distress. The result is what Robert Heinlein offered back in the 60's, in that an armed society tends to be a polite society. When the State is armed with this measure of taking human life, something else seems to happen. It happens this way because ethics is not a normal measure of the strength of a bureaucracy, but rather the small letter attitudes of what a bureaucracy does.

It happens the same way with the total and unrelenting stupidity of the so-called "Zero Tolerance" laws that have infected this great nation. What is more stupid than a zero tolerance law? It means that literally our judicial system is not able to cope, and when there are things that occur that NO PERSON could have possibly predicted, then what we have to do is abandon good sense. How can we say that a kid that had his hunting rifle in his truck when he went to school is in any way related to the wack-job that killed their parents before bringing their firearms to school and then opened fire?

I will tell you how. It happens when we, as parents and uncles and guardians and mothers, decide to abandon our own good sense and our own willingness to participate in society and leave it to the government to make these decisions on our own behalf. In other words, we decide that we cannot deal with these people but need to have someone else make these decisions.

The death penalty is the same abrogation of our right as a society to think. If we actually kept a murderer behind bars until he/she could clear their name, then we do not have to take on the abrogation of human life by killing them. It does not mean set them free until that happens, but rather that a life sentence have actual teeth. It does mean that when we find the state's evidence wanting, we can actually free the innocent that has been incarcerated. It also means that we can free the victims of a wrongful death the thing that makes them most afraid; namely, killing the wrong person in the name of justice.

This is the kinder and gentler Phelonius that some readers have asked for, and thus ye receive.