Methods Of Execution Essay, Research Paper
Methods of Execution
One man’s taking of another’s life is generally seen as an unforgivable
act which is punishable with death. When this is done as punishment however, it
is seen as an honorary deed by removing this criminal from the world and making
it a much safer place to live. With executions in mind, it is incredible what
ingenious methods can be thought of by the human brain and the fact that the
idea is centered around the murdering of one man does not even change how
prodigious these innovations are seen to be. Many different techniques and
procedures for execution are used throughout the world revealing much about a
country’s culture and their concern for their citizens.
By far one of the most well known and publicly glamorized of all methods
of execution is electrocution. Present in nine American states, it was first
used in New York in 1890. When a condemned man is scheduled to be executed, he
is led into the death chamber and strapped to the point of immobility into a
reinforced chair with belts crossing his chest, groin, legs, and arms. Two
copper electrodes, dipped in brine or treated with Eletro-Creme to increase
conductivity, are attached to him, one to his leg and the other to his head. The
first jolt, between five-hundred and two-thousand volts depending on the size of
the prisoner, is given for 30 seconds. Smoke will begin to come out of the
prisoner’s leg and head and these areas may catch fire if the victim has been
sweating profusely. A doctor will examine him and if he still shows life signs,
more jolts of two-thousand volts are administered to finish the job (Matthews).
A main reason for electrocution’s original use was the thought that death was
immediate. Unfortunately this is not the case. Doctors today believe that the
victim feels “himself begin burned to death and suffocating since the shock
cause respiratory paralysis as well as cardiac arrest. Because the energy of the
shock paralyzes the muscles, he cannot cry out, and therefore is presumed dead
(”This is your death…”). How ironic that one reason electrocution was kept in
use was that, although expensive, it was immensely serene as far as the prisoner
Still used extensively throughout the world today and in its sole
representing U.S. state, Utah, the firing squad has a much greater claim to
being humane as bullets directly into the heart generally cause instantaneous
death. Utah uses an extremely exact and well-practiced method which is immensely
centered around concern for the victim by taking almost every precaution
possible to ensure a quick and easy death. The victim is bound to a chair with
leather straps that cross his waist and head. Next a doctor locates the exact
position of his heart with a stethescope and pins a circular white target over
it. Twenty feet away, on the other side of a canvas wall, are five men with .30-
caliber rifles. Each man aims through a gun portal located in the center of the
canvas and fire simultaneously. A prisoner dies as a result of blood loss caused
by rupture of the heart or a large blood vessel, or tearing of the lungs. He
loses consciousness when shock causes a fall in the supply of blood to the brain.
Though a shot to the head causes instant death that method is not used due to
high percentage of failures (Kaplan and Danil). Some countries deliberately
alter these steps in order to cause a more gruesome death. In Taiwan, the
condemned is shot either in the back or chest four times in strategically
painful places. After nearly and hour of misery the officials take the fifth and
final shot into the heart (Hoff and Petrucelli). It is astounding how one
country will do all humanly possible to try to make death a quick and easy
procedure while another tries to do all they can to make it as painful and
agonizing as possible.
The gas chamber, most famous for its abundant use during World War II,
is the method used in Nevada and California and is also used in the Philippines.
The prisoner is led into a room and fastened to a metal chair with perforated
seats. Straps are secured across his upper and lower legs, arms, groin, and
chest. A long stethoscope is also affixed to his chest so that a doctor outside
of the room can pronounce death. Underneath the chair is a bowl filled with a
sulfuric acid and distilled water solution, with a pound of sodium cyanide
pellets suspended in a gauze bag just above. After the door is closed and sealed,
the executioner pulls a lever that triggers the release of the cyanide into the
liquid. This cause the releasing of hydrogen cyanide gas which raises through
the holes in the seat of the chair. According to doctors, the victim “will feel
unable to breathe, but will not immediately lose consciousness,” a statement
which contradicts the previous belief that the victim is becomes unconscious
instantly, which eliminates all pain and suffering. What actually happens is
that pain like that of a heart attack begins immediately and is felt in the arms,
shoulders, back and chest. The initial physical result is spasms, as in an
epileptic seizure, which will not stop for ten to twelve minutes, but the straps
restrain most involuntary body movements (”This is your death…). How strange
that something condemned by the U.S. after World War II is now a preference
which they hold.
Hanging, which is regarded as swift and sure, was mainly used because of
the assumption that it is painless because it rapidly dislocates the neck. The
usual hanging begins with a rope fastened around the neck of a prisoner, the
knot under his left ear. Next, the trap door upon which he is standing is opened
causing a violent jerk when the rope tightens. Then, he is left hanging until it
is absolutely sure that he is dead. According to Harold Hillman, a British
physiologist, the dangling person feels cervical pain, and probably suffers from
an acute headache as well, a result of the rope closing off the veins to the
neck. “The belief that fracture of the spinal cord cause immediate death is
wrong in all but a small fraction of cases. The actual cause of death is
strangulation or suffocation.” First, after the trap doors opens, the prisoner’s
weight causes tearing of the cervical muscles, skin, and blood vessels. The
upper cervical vertebrae is the dislocated and spinal cord finally separated
from the brain, causing death. This can take anywhere from fifteen seconds to
fifteen minutes (”This is your death…”). So much for doing the prisoner a
favor by giving him such a smooth and rapid death.
First used in the United States in 1977, lethal injection is now is the
most widespread with its use in twenty-three states. Of all the methods found in
the U.S., it is by far the most humane and least likely to have costly mistakes
(Matthews). The prisoner is strapped to a hospital gurney, built with an
extension panel for the left arm. Technicians stick a catheter needle into his
arm and long tubes connect it through a wall to several intravenous drips. The
first which was started immediately is harmless saline solution. The next drug
is sodium thiopental, a common barbiturate used as an anesthetic, which puts
patients quickly to sleep. A normal dose for a long operation is one-thousand
milligrams so the prisoner receives two-thousand. As soon as he loses
consciousness he is given pavulon, a common muscle relaxant used in heart
surgery. The dose now is one-hundred milligrams, ten times the usual which stops
his breathing, which would kill him in ten minutes. To speed this up however, an
equal dose of potassium chloride, which is used in bypass surgery to stop the
heart from pumping, is given and it works in ten seconds (”This is your
death…”). It is not hard to see why this is regarded as the best as far as the
prisoner is concerned.
While the aforementioned methods are widely known to be still in use,
the following is most likely thought to have disappeared long ago. Beheading,
which is known mainly because of the guillotine in the French Revolution, is
still being carried out by sword in countries such as Saudi Arabia. Like hanging,
beheading was originally thought of as quick and sure but recent medical finding
show that oxygenated blood still in the brain may allow consciousness and pain
for up to thirty seconds. Reports have even been that the severed head surveyed
the crowd after its decapitation (Matthews). When the day arrives for a prisoner
in Saudi Arabia to be executed, he is taken to a public square in the middle of
the town where it is to be held. This is frequently where the crime was
committed to give some retribution for what was done (Moorehead). The
executioner emerges from the crowd, brandishing a scimitar and robed in all
black. He positions himself upstage allowing the victim to face Mecca, but still
giving the audience an unobstructed view. He grasps his sword firmly with both
hands, coils back his body, and lashes out at the back of the condemned’s neck.
The prisoner’s head falls and the deed is done, a crude and rudimentary
execution with little concern for anyone involved (Youkey).
About as rare and abnormal as beheading, stoning is still instituted in
some Islamic states, namely Iran. Dating back to biblical times, modern day
stoning consists of basically the same procedures with a few modern revisions.
The condemned is bound hand and foot and buried up to the neck in sand with a
white sheet placed over their head. A crowd of bystanders is then allowed to
pelt the guilty party until their lack of screams indicates death. As one of
these modern day “improvements” however, Iran’s law forbids the use of stones
any larger than a golf ball, as “they bring death too swiftly” (Matthews).
Just as one can tell much about a person by the music they listen too,
one can also tell a lot about a country’s society by the method of execution
which they use. A country that uses lethal injection, hanging, or any other of
these “humane” methods must care enough about their people to try and make their
executions one that is less to them. On the other side, if a country uses public
beheading, stoning, or other inhumane methods, they must have little regard for
their citizens that they prefer them to suffer in excruciating pain than they
die in a quick and easy without remorse. The United States for example has shown
great concern for their citizens by having all methods used be remotely humane.
They have even removed electrocution from a few states and replaced it with
things such as lethal injection, even though electrocution is much more “kind”
to the condemned than a handful of other methods present in the world. It must
take a very backwards society to use methods which allow the public to
participate in the execution. All that thisdoes is make everyone want to be a
part of this sadistic act and whose children do not dream of being G.I. Joe or
Barbie but being the lucky one who gets to throw the first stone.
Whether it is done by hanging, firing squad, or stoning, all of these
methods end in the same way, someone’s death. This may be quick or the condemned
may be writhing in pain during their execution. All these different techniques
show the amount of regard for the lives of citizens in the countries in which
they are used.
Hoff, Gary and Linda Petrucelli. “Law of Revenge Prevails in Taiwan.” The
Christian Century. 10 October 1990:893(2). Infotrac. MIC 56M0102.
Kaplan, David A. and Glick Danil. “Ready, aim … fire; Utah schedules an
execution by firing squad.” Newsweek. 29 January 1996:54. Infotrac.
Matthews, Robert. “The Final Judgment.” Focus. (London, England) November
1995:38-42. Rpt. in SIRS. Corrections, 1995:5:55.
Moorehead, Caroline. “Tinkering with Death.” World Press Review. July 1995:38(2).
Infotrac. MIC 79K0041.
“This is your death; capital punishment: what really happens.” The New Republic.
1 July 1991:23(4). Infotrac. MIC 60F0296.
Youkey, B. “Ostro, Hans Christian, d. 1995 – Kidnapping and Murder, Invitation
to a Beheading.” Commonweal. 10 February 1995:4-5. Infotrac. MIC 77H0002.