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Non sequitur


Another research article is out regarding lethal injection, in PLoS Medicine. The article says, "the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable." Who decided that was "the conventional view"? Following the article, the editors have a "What Do These Findings Mean?" paragraph. After quoting the above statement, it says this: "The Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The results of this paper suggest that current protocols used for lethal injection in the US probably violate this requirement."

The conclusion does not remotely follow from the premise. It would be logically valid only with another premise, that anything other than "peaceful and painless" constitutes "cruel and unusual." The editors cite no authority for this remarkable, unstated premise. The methods used from the time of the Eighth Amendment until very recently were certainly not painless. It is one thing to say we do not intentionally inflict severe pain. It is quite another to say we must guarantee a completely painless death. The Constitution does not require that.

Update: Orin Kerr has this post at VC noting the variance between the text of the study and the press coverage of it.


PLoS Medicine is one of a handful of new "open access" journals wherein the AUTHOR pays a substantial amount of money to get his article published. While peer-reviewed, one has to wonder how many authors are rejected after they pay the $2,500 publication fee.

It appears also that the authors premise the potential of harm from the third chemical (conscious asphyxiation) on the complete failure of the first two chemicals. This reasoning is impeccable, since any logician would agree that if step 1 goes wrong, and step 2 goes wrong, chances are step 3 will go wrong as well. Apparently, an advanced medical degree is needed to cipher this out.

"It would be logically valid only with another premise, that anything other than 'peaceful and painless' constitutes 'cruel and unusual.'"

Nice use of the fallacy of irrelevant extremes, Kent. But another premise, indeed the one here, is that causing unnecessary pain is cruel. That's almost a tautology, so it's not surprising you failed to get it.

Middleamerican/Mr. Mahar, that's not the point. The paralytic is actually second, and the point is that if there's no anesthetic you'd feel yourself suffocating when the paralytic stopped your diaphragm. You'd also feel the salt coursing through your veins and heart, which feels like a chemical burn. No medical degree required.

[The editors, not I, made the extreme statement the premise of their constitutional conclusion. -- KS]

_You_ say the editors made that point, but, as I said, there is another premise which makes their argument true: the tautological premise that intentional infliction of pain is cruel.

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