Execution by Assisted Suicide

by Wesley J. Smith

So many of those who believe in assisted suicide and euthanasia don’t agree with the death penalty. The recent problems in executing a man–who buried one of his murder victims alive–has sparked an idea in Practical Ethics. From, “Lethal Injection: Time for the Chop:”

In recent times, doctors have reflected on the most gentle and effective ways to kill people in the context of end-of-life care. In Oregon, for example, the Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill persons to end their lives by taking an oral dose of a barbiturate. A similar system could be devised for death row inmates, giving them the freedom to choose when to ingest the lethal cocktail, within a given period. The doomed inmate, once offered the drugs, would retain some autonomy on when to die.

I call such ideas cruel and unusual death with dignity. Of course, the authors are actually against the death penalty:

Lethal injection, the preferred method in many jurisdictions, is the aesthetic choice, rarely offending the sensitivities of the viewers. It is, however, a technical procedure that is prone to failure…

Cutting a person’s neck is more graphic than lethal injection but, if the public favours capital punishment, it must confront the true nature of the act. It is the premeditated killing of a human being who does not want to die. If the sight of a severed head or the sound of falling blade awakens people to the violence of the act, then that is a good thing. Stopping the heart and causing havoc to the internal organs does not make the execution any less brutal. The brutality is simply hidden from view.

Ditto euthanasia and assisted suicide. Yet, advocates say it is the essential alternative to violent suicides.

Back to the piece:

The case of Clayton Lockett reminds us that, for all the disagreements on the issue of capital punishment, one point is beyond dispute: the most effective way to avoid botched executions is not to execute people.

Again, why couldn’t we say the same thing about assisted suicide? Surely it is the act of killing that can cause the physical distress, not whether someone wants to die. 

And what if a murderer wants to die as an act of contrition? It happens. Should they be granted assisted suicide?

Some have said yes, as well as for those sentenced to long term incarceration. Like I said,, cruel and unusual death with dignity.

By the way, as a study out of the Netherlands demonstrated, there are severe adverse physical side effects–other than dying–associated with lethal injections and swallowed assisted suicide.  Indeed, fewer with lethal injections. Hmmmm.

Following the logic of the piece, if you don’t want botched “deaths with dignity,” doctors shouldn’t do it.