South Carolina may replace lethal injections with firing squads for capital punishment


Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, Barcelona, site of executions during the Spanish Civil War

The American state of South Carolina has not executed anyone for ten years. Back then, prison authorities used lethal injections. In the meantime, because of supplier boycotts and legal and ethical misgivings about whether lethal injections are a “cruel and unusual punishment”, this option may not be available.

So the state’s upper house has approved the use of firing squads, which are said to provide a quicker and painless death.

The electric chair is another option, but some people do not die instantly and they can even burst into flames. “It’s an extraordinarily, gruesome, horrendous process, where they essentially catch on fire and don’t die immediately,” commented the senator who proposed the firing squad option.

If the bill passes, South Carolina would become the fourth state, after Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, which permit prisoners to be executed with a firing squad. Only 24 of America’s 50 state have capital punishment. Debate over the use of firing squads has tracked the debate over capital punishment itself. Charles Cooke, of the National Review, may have made the most cogent comment:

Lethal injection is a sanitized, medicalized process that effectively euphemizes what is being done. Firing squads, by contrast, are violent and make it obvious. If we are happy to kill people, we should be happy to acknowledge fully what we’re doing. If we’re not willing to acknowledge fully what we’re doing, we shouldn’t be killing people.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   




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