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The Shake-and-Jive on Lethal Injection


As public opinion polls overwhelmingly attest, death penalty opponents can't sell their program by saying out loud what it is, so there's always some diversionary wrinkle to get what they want without ever having to identify it.

This has a number of now-familiar guises.  One of the most popular in recent years has been the "moratorium."  You might have noticed that these proposed moratoria never seem to come with an end date.  Wonder what that means.

Then there's LWOP, the supposedly equally safe and effective alternative to the death penalty.  Putting to one side the fact that it is neither safe nor effective (see, e.g., Clarence Ray Allen), we now see  --  for example, as Kent set forth in spilling the beans about the movement in California to dilute LWOP for "juveniles,"  --  that LWOP doesn't actually deliver as advertised.  It's always one legislative session away from all manner of exceptions, if not outright repeal, for "sympathetic" cases.  

For the present moment, we have the lethal injection shake-and-jive.  You have to give abolitionists credit, though.  They might not have a persuasive argument, and they might not have that much candor, but by God they have persistence.   

For years, abolitionists sought to displace the gas chamber and the electric chair with what they said they viewed as the more humane procedure of lethal injection. Having won that battle, they now turn against lethal injection as well.

Whether it's country-of-origin challenges or the particular drug mix, it turns out that lethal injection is also a violation of  --  guess what  -- "human rights."

What a surprise!

Of course it's not a surprise to those who understood the wellsprings of abolitionism to start with. There are several themes to it, and not all abolitionists are signing on, but more often than not, this is what lies at the heart of it:

The murderer isn't responsible, not really. Society is responsible, and society is unfair. The murderer is the victim. The actual victim -- i.e., the person who wound up dead -- is simply an inconvenience to be grudgingly acknowledged but mostly, and rather quickly, just dismissed.

This is the underlying reason behind the attack on the Danish drug maker which recently declined to stop selling phenobarbitol because of its use in lethal injections. It's not about method of execution; that's a dodge. It's about the death penalty itself.

The problem for abolitionism is that the death penalty itself is overwhelmingly supported by the voters and routinely wins in court. Unable to win public or judicial support for what they really want, abolitionists conduct a proxy war to get what they want without having to actually say what it is.  Whether it's the moratorium with no end, or the LWOP that's not really LWOP, or the lethal injection that never seems quite right no matter what drugs are used, it's really all the same  --  the shake-and-jive.


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