Nowhere does the lunacy of public policy shine brighter today than in the area of capital punishment. Here in North Carolina, the latest sad chapter is enough to make a grown man cry. Or maybe even fry.
At issue is the nature of cruel and unusual punishment -- and whether those on death row should have to endure the pain and knowledge of their executions as they happen. There are too many facets of the capital punishment debate for me to take on tonight, so let's just focus on the one in the news.
N.C. prison officials have proposed using a controversial medical device to make sure death row inmate Willie Brown Jr. is unconscious and not experiencing pain during his April 21 execution. U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard had given prison officials until noon today to submit a proposal to abide with his ruling last week.
Howard had ordered that Brown's execution could only go forward if medically-trained professionals were present to make sure Brown is unconscious before paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs are administered.
Brown's lawyers had raised concerns that inmates had been conscious and experience pain during executions based on eyewitness accounts and the levels of post-mortem sedatives in their bodies.
Prison officials say they would use a bispectral index monitor, or BIS machine, to track the inmate's brain waves. The state's expert in the case, Dr. Mark Dershwitz, wrote in an affidavit that the machine is used to to make sure that surgical patients have received adequate anesthesia and patients on ventilators are adequately sedated.
"It is my opinion, beyond a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the utilization of the BIS monitor ... will prevent the possibility of the inmate being awake," wrote Dr. Mark the state's expert in this litigation, in an affidavit filed today.
However, when told about the state's proposal, Dr. Richard Pollard, president of the N.C. Society of Anesthesiologist, laughed out loud.
"These monitors cannot guarantee that a patient is asleep," said Pollard, a Charlotte anesthesiologist. "It has not been accepted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists."
The national group issued an advisory last summer saying these devices were an emerging technology but that the decision to use the machines should be made by doctors on a case-by-case basis.
"There is still much to be discovered about how these devices work, and in which situations they are best applied," Dr. Orin Guidry, the society's president at the time. "We are interested in following their continued evolution and to conducting further research in this area. Meanwhile, brain function monitors are an option to be used when the anesthesiologist deems it appropriate, just as he or she makes choices about specific drugs, dosages, warming devices and other types of monitors depending on the individual practitioner.
Can you stand it?
Our very willingness to kill one another while dancing around the niceties of "how" is mind boggling.
What I want to know is this: Why don't people in favor of the death penalty want public executions? Why aren't they eager for bullets in the back of the skull? Or maybe decapitation in the town square at high noon? Is it because that's not humane? Or is it because they're ashamed of their own lethal judgments.
The whole fucking business makes me sick.