Cruel, deliberate, and unusually vicious. It’s us.

Summary: Today, one of the bloggers that I follow regularly linked to Charles Pierce’s angry opinion piece on the State Of Oklahoma’s execution of Clayton Lockett: Barbarians In Oklahoma. Because I’ve recently been under a general anaesthetic for surgery, I was curious and decided on a whim to look up the drugs used in the “lethal injection cocktail.”  Shaken and upset, I hope that my interpretation of the pharmacological effects is wrong. I’m pretty sure I am not.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
— Eighth amendment to the US Constitution

Execution by Firing Squad

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The three drugs
  3. Putting it all together
  4. Death with Dignity
  5. Torture is a crime
  6. About the 8th amendment
  7. For More Information

(1)  Introduction

Let me state for the record that I am not an anesthesiologist or a pharmacologist. I am currently trying to vet this material with a few professionals and am already  gathering feedback that leads me to believe I am not wrong. I may be. If I am wrong, I will publish a suitably public correction/retraction.

(2)  The three drugs

The lethal injection package consists of three drugs given in sequence.

(a) The First Drug

The first drug is a mild hypnotic/disassociative. The subject would feel sleepy and dizzy, but it would not provide an anaesthetic effect. Hypnotics are often used in surgery because they tend to block the formation of long-term memories; subjects appear less likely to suffer PTSD symptoms as a result of surgery if their ability to remember the experience is blocked.

(b) The Second Drug

The second drug is Vecuronium Bromide – basically, Curare. Curare causes rapid and severe paralysis of muscles. The subject remains conscious and the curare does not block pain; it renders the subject unable to move, blink, speak – or breathe. Someone on curare feels as if they are being held down by impossible force, and they begin to strangle as their diaphragm muscles stop functioning.

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More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”

Summary:  This is the second in a series about pirates.  The first chapter described modern day piracy, and why our “catch and release” response makes it an attractive low-risk, high-return business.  This describes the legal basis for their capture, trial, and punishment.  Links to the other chapters appear at the end.

Journalist Bret Stephens asks “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?” (op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 25 November 2008).  His answers:

  1. No controlling legal authority, providing a basis on which to fight, capture, try, and punish pirates.
  2. International law (e.g., the Law of the Sea Convention) makes action against pirates difficult.
  3. UN authorization is necessary for most effective actions against pirates, such as attacking their bases.

All of these things are true, but they secondary factors (discussed in the next chapter).  The vast majority of articles about piracy concentrate on these minor things.  This post will attempt a clearer and more comprehensive explanation.

Pirates were hung for two reasons.

  1. They routinely killed people during the course of their raiding. 
  2. During their years of infamy in the 17th and early 18th century, capital punishment was routine for many crimes. 

The last point is widely ignored in discussions of piracy, such as Stephen’s.  Consider the laws of England.

In the years after 1660 the number of offences carrying the death penalty increased enormously, from about 50, to 160 by 1750 and to 288 by 1815. You could be hanged for stealing goods worth 5 shillings (25p), stealing from a shipwreck, pilfering from a Naval Dockyard, damaging Westminster Bridge, impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner or cutting down a young tree. This series of laws was called (later) “The Bloody Code.” (source: UK National Archives)

In 1769 the great jurist William Blackstone wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (Book IV, chapter 1;  source, Wikipedia entry):

YET, though in this instance we may glory in the wisdom of the English law, we shall find it more difficult to justify the frequency of capital punishment to found therein; inflicted (perhaps inattentively) by a multitude of successive independent statutes, upon crimes very different in their natures. It is a melancholy truth, that among the variety of actions which men are daily liable to commit, no less than 150 have been declared by act of Parliament to be felonies without benefit of clergy ; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death.

Conclusion:  we do not hang pirates today because:
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