It's time to kill the death penalty

Botched execution calls for reevaluation of already questionable practice

The death penalty is slowly dying - not because of legal challenges or moral opposition to the practice, per se, but because the tools of the trade are increasingly unavailable.

The latest in a string of contentious executions came this week when the state of Oklahoma carried out the death penalty on convicted rapist and murderer Clayton Lockett.

A striking trend of using new drugs to execute prisoners has overshadowed executions throughout the year. In protest of the death penalty, European drug manufacturers are no longer providing drugs traditionally used for execution to the United States.

This has left states vehement on executing criminals testing the effectiveness of new, at times untested, clearly unsafe drugs. This lack of testing has exacerbated the already arguably cruel and unusual punishment that characterizes the experience of a prisoner after receiving the drugs.

Witnesses described the Lockett's execution as "botched."

After witnessing the condemned writhe on the gurney 10 minutes after being deemed unconscious by the doctor present, the injection process was halted. The blinds of the window into the viewing gallery were lowered. Lockett died of a heart attack over half an hour later. Officials say a vein of his "exploded," meaning the drugs were absorbed slowly into his soft tissue as opposed to his bloodstream.

The incident has thrust the debate over capital punishment back onto headlines across the country. The death penalty is being attacked not for its moral or legal grounding, but for its increasing impracticality, spurred by international discontent with the practice.

The question still retains some obvious ethical considerations. When does legal execution become illegal cruel and unusual punishment? Is a human being wrenching and writhing in pain, clenching his or her teeth and thrusting on a gurney the image of justice served?

Lockett, like Michael Lee Wilson and Dennis McGuire (criminals who have suffered similarly botched executions with new drug cocktails), certainly deserved the maximum punishment allowed under the law for his vile crimes.

Wilson and McGuire faced inhumane death sentences with drug cocktails in lieu of the appropriate drugs being available. Danish and Italian drug makers have ceased shipping sodium thiopental and pentobarbital to the United Stated in protest of capital punishment.

The question is not whether Lockett should have been punished, but whether we as a civilized society wish to maintain a practice that is increasingly vanishing from developed nations. While the world is moving away from the notion of an eye for an eye, we are left killing heinous criminals in increasingly heinous ways.

The question that arises with this latest failed attempt at administering a flawed conception of justice is, is that how we wish to conduct ourselves?

International norms alone are not reason to change a criminal policy still practiced in the vast majority of states, but it gives cause for careful reflection.

A series of inhumane executions, be they of depraved criminals or not, is cause for meaningful action and serious reconsideration of how we administer justice to those we find most contemptible.

A nation can scarcely be judged by how it treats the average citizen or laudable prodigy. It is assumed, rightfully so, these populations will flourish and prosper in any functioning society. It's easy to promote human rights when everyone behaves humanely.

How we choose to handle individuals who have offended the general citizenry, who have committed actions universally seen as reprehensible and depraved - that will be the test of our character.

With Lockett's death still at the forefront of our attention, the time to decide how we will define human rights is now.