Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Inconsequential Methods of Execution.

A sobering post from San Quentin, CA by KTVU.

But first an aside: How we kill is never inconsequential. My interest in death row and executions clearly (to me) coincides with my interest in end of life care. The state sanctions killing, whether we're declared brain dead and reside in a hospice facility in Florida, or have a PEG tube inserted when we are 6 months from death in an elder home, or whether we've killed a woman thirty years ago. I despise liberal arguments for consistency -- against inconsistency and hypocrisy -- deeply. Yet, our society tends to get flummoxed over the issues of death in any of these situations and to operate from bifurcated trajectories given the "quality" of life that's being contemplated. I've never lost a loved one to violent, death-row-worthy crime but I have sat at the bedside of someone I loved who was dying. If killing is killing, as "pro-life" and disability activists say, where is their work to make the state accountable for death-row executions? If judgement is God's, and sin is his to determine, why shouldn't humane execution for a civilized people be something more than "inconsequential"? And if we're so certain of the exactitude of the judicial process, how can we ignore the exonerations that DNA testing has brought to light? If we don't see our judicial system as class and race biased, why are most prisoners black and poor young men? Why are the headline-grabbing persistent vegetative state patients, like Terri Schiavo and Nancy Cruzen, all young white females? We smirk at Kevorkian biopics, yet exercise his same certainty when asserting our own convictions of right and wrong when ending lives.

And why don't we desperately want these answers?

California's new death chamber was completed one year ago, but the facility has never been used due to an ongoing battle over the methods the state would use to execute inmates.

Although 702 inmates sit on death row, executions are holding even. The last man scheduled to die was Michael Morales for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Mitchell.

Two hours before Morales was to die by lethal injection, a federal judge effectively halted his execution and all those to follow until the state changed its execution protocols.

That was four years ago.

"The four years has been awful for the crime victims," said Nina Salarno Ashford of Crime Victim's United.

Crime Victims United is an organization that supports the resumption of executions in California.

"To see that something inconsequential has delayed’s just inherently unfair," said Ashford.

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Death Panels, A Timeline.

Seethruit at DailyKos diagrams the "death panel" meme for us (with rather astounding precision), below. I wonder, where in all of this did we as a country lose the chance to discuss end of life care like adults?

It sure looked like a flash fire but it actually smoldered for nearly a year. In early '09, the Washington Times, George Neumayr, and Cal Thomas linked HCR to euthanasia while "Dr" Betsy McCaughey PhD, the same "expert" who helped torpedo ClintonCare) hoisted repeated bogus incendiaries about health rationing. But it wasn't until McCaughey hit on compulsory end-of-life counseling that she really got things going. Then, with a boost from Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)'s assertion that "Ezekiel Emanual" HCR would cut off health care for the disabled, Palin was primed for full ignition:


And the blast was AWESOME. The MSM couldn't get enough:

...the Washington Post mentioned the phrase 18 times, the New York Times 16 times, and network and cable news at least 154 times...

In just 2 weeks 86% of Americans to hear about 'Death Panels'. Overheated townhallers screamed and shouted and HCR was nearly collared for failure.

Brendan Nyhan (U of Mich political scientist) traces the "Death Panel" rollout from Betsy McCaughey's end-of-life counseling assertion, through rightwing bloviators (Hannity, Ingraham, Limbaugh), Michele Bachmann's boost, to Sarah Palin's FB explosion, and beyond. Dividing the timeline into Phases, I have also added the euthanasia prep work (see credit below) that preceded the explosion and assorted additional players(in italics):

11/23/08 Washington Times op-ed
1/27/09 George Neumayr American Spectator
2/9/09 Betsy McCaughey
2/11/09 Washington Times op-ed

2/18/09 Cal Thomas Commentary Washington Times
7/16/09 Betsy McCaughey Fred Thomspon Show
7/17/09 Betsy McCaughey New York Post op-ed
7/17/09 Sean Hannity Sean Hannity Show
7/17/09 Laura Ingraham Laura Ingraham Show
7/21/09 Rush Limbaugh Rush Limbaugh Show
7/23/09 Betsy McCaughey Wall Street Journel op-ed
7/23/09 Rep. Boehner (R-OH) Press release
7/27/09 Rep. Bachmann (R-MN) House of Representatives speech
7/27/09 Peter Johnson Jr. Fox News Channel
7/28/09 Rep. Foxx (R-NC) House of Representatives speech
7/29/09 Washington Times Editorial
8/7/09 Sarah Palin Facebook Posting
8/8/09 Ann Althouse
8/9/09 Michelle Malkin
8/10/09 Glenn Beck Glenn Beck Program
8/10/09 Rush Limbaugh Rush Limbaugh Show
8/12/09 Sen. Grassley (R-IA) Town hall in Winterset, IA
8/13/09 Rush Limbaugh Rush Limbaugh Show
8/14/09 Rep. Broun (R-GA) Amer. Conservative Union letter

Concurrently, by late July, a viral email with a link to Betsy McCaughey's euthanasia counseling pitch on the Fred Thompson Show had already been intercepted by So there it was - in just 4 weeks, a cabal of conservative elites, rightwing pundits, Fox News, GOPers, viral hoaxers, and MSM panderers had succeeded in reaching 86% of Americans with an utterly preposterous, and thoroughly reprehensible, claim. There's just one more thing. Wouldn't you like to take a look at Palin's incoming calls for early July? Luntz anyone?

Postscript: Frank Luntz asserted that Obama critics had "gone to far' with the 'death panels'. I believe this merits extending the timeline:

8/27/09 Frank Luntz Fox and Friends

Credit: Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes' excellent NYT article provided citations for euthansia commentary in early '09.

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Euthanasia and Islam.

At Irtiqa, Nidhal Guessoum is guest posting about euthanasia. It's a two-parter and a quick read:

Part 1 - a discussion of "You Don't Know Jack"

Part 2 - a discussion of euthanasia (or assisted suicide, death with dignity, aid in dying) and Islam

Read these two excerpts, below, and tell me if they don't sound like the Catholic positions, the first espoused by the USCCB (those experiencing pain should be taught to understand the Christian concept of redemptive suffering) and the second by the Catholic Health Association. In other words, the theological and the practical:

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that an Islamic Code of Medical Ethics had been produced in 1981 in the First International Conference on Islamic Medicine held in Kuwait, and in it euthanasia was addressed quite squarely. Among the relevant pronouncements, however, one finds: “The claim of killing for painful hopeless illness is also refuted, for there is no human pain that cannot be largely conquered by medication or by suitable neurosurgery...”; “A physician should not take an active part in terminating the life of a patient, even if it is at his or her guardian’s request, and even if the reason is severe deformity; a hopeless, incurable disease; or severe, unbearable pain that cannot be alleviated by the usual pain killers. The physician should urge his patient to endure and remind him of the reward of those who tolerate their suffering.

Finally, in an interesting recent article published in an Iranian journal of medicine, Aramesh and Shadi (2007) present the orthodox views of Islamic scholars (Shiite and Sunni), but at the very end try to show some “flexibility” by pointing to two instances where “passive assistance in allowing a terminally ill patient to die” would be permissible under Islamic law: (a) “administering analgesic agents that might shorten the patient’s life, with the purpose of relieving the physical pain or mental distress”; (b) “withdrawing futile treatment on the basis of informed consent (of the immediate family members who act on the professional advice of the physicians in charge of the case), allowing death to take its natural course.”

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Michael Schiavo, In Danger.

I hope Michael Schiavo has a body guard because this deranged post by June Maxam at ever-more ridiculous North Country Gazette shows his address and tells him that he can "run but not hide." It sounds a lot like incitement of violence, calls Schiavo a "perp" and repeats his home address a number of times. I got the Dr. Tiller shivers just reading it.

There are no angels in this contest between two families that were once close. I'm certain that each felt they were doing the right thing, one for God, one for the rights of patients. However, it has escalated into an all out fist fight that includes a host of "pro-life" radicals who feel that ends justify means. The latest developments in the relationship between Schiavo and the Schindler family should give us all the shivers.

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Sanctioning Doctors Who Kill Prisoners.

The American Board of Anesthesiologists will now sanction doctors who participate in prisoner executions. From the Washington Post:

A national physicians organization has quietly decided to revoke the certification of any member who participates in executing a prisoner by lethal injection.

The mandate from the American Board of Anesthesiologists reflects its leaders' belief that "we are healers, not executioners," board secretary Mark A. Rockoff said. Although the American Medical Association has long opposed doctor involvement, the anesthesiologists' group is the first to say it will harshly penalize a health-care worker for abetting lethal injections. The loss of certification would prevent an anesthesiologist from working in most hospitals.

About half of the 35 states performing executions, including Virginia and North Carolina, require a doctor to be present. Other states have also recruited doctors, including anesthesiologists, to play a role in executions involving lethal injections. In some jurisdictions, anesthesiologists consult prison officials on dosages. In others, they insert catheters and infuse the three-drug cocktails.

While death penalty opponents welcome the move because it raises yet more questions about lethal injections, capital punishment supporters contend that doctors are not needed during the procedures, which can be administered by prison employees. But as questions mount about the types and combinations of drugs used and whether they cause undue suffering, states have been turning to doctors for advice and assistance. With 3,200 prisoners now on death rows across the country, most of the 50 executions performed each year since 2008 have used lethal injections.

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