The United States Supreme Court
has agreed to hear a case brought by 2 Kentucky death row inmates
who say that lethal injections are cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the country’s Constitution.
I’m not sure how much chance they have of winning, but it’s definitely far from impossible. And in any case, the issue raises quite a few interesting questions, mainly, what would this mean for the future of the death penalty in America?
If lethal injections are cruel and unusual in their current form because they inflict unnecessary pain on the recipient, what would the alternative be? There’s no way to ensure with absolute certainty that any death is sufficiently painless, because neither you nor I nor any scientist has ever been able to wake up a freshly dead person and ask how it felt when he went.
And if injections do not and cannot meet constitutional standards, what about other popular methods like the gas chamber or the electric chair? I’ve never been in one, but I feel pretty safe assuming that the chair would suck big time, probably more than being shot full of chemicals. And the gas chamber, while not quite so obviously violent, has also been known to have its own issues. So with that said, if the current case is a winner, it would clear the way for challenges of these other methods as well, and with precedent set against painful deaths, they would likely be struck down too.
That leads us back to the main question of what happens to the death penalty. if a painless death can’t be guaranteed and that’s the standard by which everything is being judged, it follows that the death penalty in and of itself is cruel and unusual and must be ruled unconstitutional. I know that we’re likely years away from that point because there surely will be many appeals, but it’ll be interesting to see how things ultimately play out.