In the months prior to my cancer diagnosis, my local church — Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksville, Tennessee — was focused on a simple message repeated and emphasized from various Bible passages: Do not be afraid. I listened and without really being consciously aware of doing it, I let it penetrate and made it the central pillar of my approach to faith and life.
A few months later, I began experiencing occasional intense pain in the area of my right shoulder, leading me to do what I am always loath to do, which is going to the doctor and seeking medical treatment.
Later, the pain meds administered were more powerful, but the pain and frequency continued to increase. On the day after experiencing the wonder of a total solar eclipse in our area on Aug. The result was concerning enough to my nurse practitioner that she ordered a CT scan of my head as well for that same afternoon. Mere hours later, she contacted my wife, Patricia, and told her to get me to the BACH emergency room, emphasizing Patty should tell the ER personnel she was concerned about a stroke. I had a chance to see the images of both my brain and my right lung and it was immediately obvious that my life had taken a serious turn for the worse.
Even as I prepared to have a surgeon open my skull to remove the most immediate threat — the angry looking mass that had begun to push from one hemisphere of my brain into the other like an invading army — I was calm in assessing my situation. What was I going to deny? The images made the threat obvious. Why bargain with God when the fact was I had the threat of this very day in the back of my mind for nearly 40 years of being a cigarette smoker?
Who was I going to be angry with? For what? For granting me freewill, without which life is essentially meaningless? Should I indulge in depression and self-pity next on the way to acceptance?
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I had already been there for years and found depression to be an unproductive state of mind, most often leading to bad decisions based on taking counsel of fear rather than hope. That I had taken the express lane to acceptance became obvious to me when I found myself being prepped for a craniotomy and talking to the anesthesiologist prior to the most invasive type of operation one can imagine.
The ALI, which created the modern legal framework for the death penalty in , indicated that the punishment is so arbitrary, fraught with racial and economic disparities, and unable to assure quality legal representation for indigent capital defendants, that it can never be administered fairly.
There's Something We Need to Talk About: Death and Dying in the USA
Thoughtful citizens, who might possibly support the abstract notion of capital punishment, are obliged to condemn it in actual practice. Unlike any other criminal punishments, the death penalty is irrevocable. Speaking to the French Chamber of Deputies in , years after having witnessed the excesses of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette said, "I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.
Since , in this country, there have been on the average more than four cases each year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder. Scores of these individuals were sentenced to death. In many cases, a reprieve or commutation arrived just hours, or even minutes, before the scheduled execution. These erroneous convictions have occurred in virtually every jurisdiction from one end of the nation to the other.
Nor have they declined in recent years, despite the new death penalty statutes approved by the Supreme Court. Disturbingly, and increasingly, a large body of evidence from the modern era shows that innocent people are often convicted of crimes — including capital crimes — and that some have been executed. He was convicted largely based on eyewitness testimony made from the back of a police car in a dimly lit lot near the crime scene.
This sample of freakish and arbitrary innocence determinations also speaks directly to the unceasing concern that there are many more innocent people on death rows across the country — as well as who have been executed. Several factors seen in the above sample of cases help explain why the judicial system cannot guarantee that justice will never miscarry: overzealous prosecution, mistaken or perjured testimony, race, faulty police work, coerced confessions, the defendant's previous criminal record, inept and under-resourced defense counsel, seemingly conclusive circumstantial evidence, and community pressure for a conviction, among others.
And when the system does go wrong, it is often volunteers from outside the criminal justice system — journalists, for example — who rectify the errors, not the police or prosecutors. To retain the death penalty in the face of the demonstrable failures of the system is unacceptable, especially since there are no strong overriding reasons to favor the death penalty. Prisoners are executed in the United States by any one of five methods; in a few jurisdictions the prisoner is allowed to choose which one he or she prefers:.
The traditional mode of execution, hanging , is an option still available in Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington. Death on the gallows is easily bungled: If the drop is too short, there will be a slow and agonizing death by strangulation. If the drop is too long, the head will be torn off. Two states, Idaho and Utah, still authorize the firing squad.
Argumentative Essay on Death Penalty
The prisoner is strapped into a chair and hooded. A target is pinned to the chest. Five marksmen, one with blanks, take aim and fire. Throughout the twentieth century, electrocution has been the most widely used form of execution in this country, and is still utilized in eleven states, although lethal injection is the primary method of execution.
The condemned prisoner is led — or dragged — into the death chamber, strapped into the chair, and electrodes are fastened to head and legs. When the switch is thrown the body strains, jolting as the voltage is raised and lowered. Often smoke rises from the head. There is the awful odor of burning flesh. No one knows how long electrocuted individuals retain consciousness.
In , the electrocution of John Evans in Alabama was described by an eyewitness as follows:.
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Evans' body. Sparks and flames erupted … from the electrode tied to Mr. Evans' left leg. His body slammed against the straps holding him in the electric chair and his fist clenched permanently. The electrode apparently burst from the strap holding it in place. A large puff of grayish smoke and sparks poured out from under the hood that covered Mr. Evans' face. An overpowering stench of burnt flesh and clothing began pervading the witness room. Two doctors examined Mr. Evans and declared that he was not dead. Evans was administered a second thirty second jolt of electricity.
The stench of burning flesh was nauseating. More smoke emanated from his leg and head. Again, the doctors examined Mr. At that time, I asked the prison commissioner, who was communicating on an open telephone line to Governor George Wallace, to grant clemency on the grounds that Mr. Evans was being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The request …was denied. At , the doctors pronounced him dead. The execution of John Evans took fourteen minutes. The introduction of the gas chamber was an attempt to improve on electrocution.
In this method of execution the prisoner is strapped into a chair with a container of sulfuric acid underneath. The chamber is sealed, and cyanide is dropped into the acid to form a lethal gas.
ACLU OBJECTIONS TO THE DEATH PENALTY
Execution by suffocation in the lethal gas chamber has not been abolished but lethal injection serves as the primary method in states which still authorize it. In a panel of judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California where the gas chamber has been used since ruled that this method is a "cruel and unusual punishment.
A few seconds later he again looked in my direction. His face was red and contorted as if he were attempting to fight through tremendous pain. His mouth was pursed shut and his jaw was clenched tight. Don then took several more quick gulps of the fumes. His face and body turned a deep red and the veins in his temple and neck began to bulge until I thought they might explode. After about a minute Don's face leaned partially forward, but he was still conscious. Every few seconds he continued to gulp in. He was shuddering uncontrollably and his body was racked with spasms.
His head continued to snap back. His hands were clenched. At this time the muscles along Don's left arm and back began twitching in a wavelike motion under his skin. Spittle drooled from his mouth. Approximately two minutes later, we were told by a prison official that the execution was complete. District Court , S. The latest mode of inflicting the death penalty, enacted into law by more than 30 states, is lethal injection , first used in in Texas.
It is easy to overstate the humaneness and efficacy of this method; one cannot know whether lethal injection is really painless and there is evidence that it is not. As the U. Court of Appeals observed, there is "substantial and uncontroverted evidence… that execution by lethal injection poses a serious risk of cruel, protracted death…. Even a slight error in dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his or her own asphyxiation.
Heckler , F. Its veneer of decency and subtle analogy with life-saving medical practice no doubt makes killing by lethal injection more acceptable to the public.