US lethal injection scandal challenges Christians - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
April 15, 2005

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US lethal injection scandal challenges Christians


Christians and human rights activists opposed to the death penalty are vowing to continue the struggle against what they see as a degrading and inhuman policy in the light of fresh research published in the international medical journal The Lancet. This shows that people executed by lethal injection in the United States may have suffered terrible pain because they were not properly anaesthetised.

The researchers, led by Leonidas Koniaris of the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, analysed information from Texas and Virginia, where about 45% of executions take place. They found that in a significant number of cases untrained workers administered lethal injections with no monitoring for anaesthesia.

The researchers also analysed autopsy reports from 49 executions in Arizona, Georgia and North and South Carolina. In 43 cases concentrations of anaesthetic in the blood were lower than required for surgery, and in 21 of those the levels were consistent with people retaining awareness, reports The Guardian.

On the BBC TV Newsnight programme last night, a commentator from the US observed that the standards for executing humans were lower than those for putting down sick animals in some states, where a monitored anaesthetic to prevent suffering is mandatory.

Lethal injection has been used in 788 of 956 executions carried out since the US Supreme court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The practice has been seen as more humane than methods such as electrocution, gas, hanging or gunfire ñ but opponents say that capital punishment is unjust, ineffective and degrading.

The United States stands alongside Saudi Arabia and China (where thousands are executed every year) as one of the worldís most persistent practitioners of judicial killing.

Capital punishment has continued to divide religious opinion in the US. The Southern Baptists and the religious right have been enthusiastic advocates, as have many evangelicals who otherwise call themselves ëpro-lifeí.

But this may be changing. Evangelicals ìare discerning spiritually what Catholics have reasoned, that life is a gift from God and every life is to be cherished and protected,î said Paul Schenk, chairman of the National Clergy Council recently. ìThere has been a moral-theology gap for evangelical Christians [on the issue of capital punishment]î.

The death penalty is strongly opposed by Roman Catholics, the United Methodists, American Baptists, the Orthodox, Lutherans and Evangelical Lutherans, Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, the United Church of Christ, Presbyterians and the Episcopal Church USA (Anglican).

Lutheran Christians have called for an assault on the root causes of violent crime and say that executions are no substitute for this.

According to a recent Church statement: ìThe ongoing controversy surrounding the death penalty shows the weaknesses of its justifications. We (the United States) would be a better society by joining the many nations that have already abolished capital punishment.î

The new evidence about lethal injections is likely to strengthen the abolitionist lobby in the US, and is already bringing condemnation from other parts of the world. Both the Vatican and the great majority of members of the World Council of Churches oppose the death penalty.

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