Around the world the death penalty is a controversial subject; it is banned in 141 countries and others have not executed anyone for many years despite it being legal. In 2014 Amnesty International recorded executions happening in 22 countries, and the US was in the top five list of nations who committed the most executions, having executed 35 people in 2014.
The method of execution varies from state to state, with lethal injection, gas chamber, electrocution and even hanging and firing squads. Lethal injection is the most common method, however in recent years this controversial subject has become even more controversial after an export ban from the EU has led to a shortage in the drugs used leading to a number of ‘botched’ executions.
The drug in question is called sodium thiopental, which is an anaesthetic, and after the 2011 ban companies around the world have gradually refused to sell the drug to the USA citing pressure from activists, fear of lawsuits and ethical obligations/concerns.
So what’s being used instead? Well, some states, like Oklahoma, who have switched to a different drug, pentobarbital, which has been primarily used to euthanize animals and which is also now subject to a sales ban from the EU. Other states are effectively experimenting with combinations of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone, a mixture that resulted in Dennis McGuire taking 26 minutes to die.
In Arizona, Joseph Wood took almost two hours to die; in fact the process was so traumatic for all involved that an emergency appeal was launched to stop the execution during the procedure.
While many people would struggle to be sympathetic towards a convicted murderer, is this the right way to treat a human being? Prisoners on death row spend years waiting for their execution, so it would not be a big stretch to give them a life sentence, and we all know that life means life in America, where sentences of over 1000 years have been given out in the past.
Arguments against the penalty are also losing credibility, the claim that the death penalty is a deterrent is false as statistics show that states with the death penalty actually have a higher murder rate than states without. Despite there being legislation saying that offenders with mental illness cannot be executed there are plenty of cases of these rules being ignored (this actually breaches international law but Human Rights is a subject for another article), and what about the cases of the innocent being executed?
There is also a proven unfair bias with those from poor or minority backgrounds more likely to be sentenced to death, it is also more common when the victim was white. Part of the reason is that poor defendants are unable to afford a decent defence unlike their richer counterparts, and another is institutionalised racism.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the US is not the worst offender, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq all executed more people than the United States. But, with the growing issues of the US being able to obtain the drugs needed for their executions, maybe they will joining the countries who have already abolished the death penalty.