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Renewed claims that lethal injection qualifies as "cruel and unusual" punishment have arisen following the execution on December 13th of Ángel Nieves Díaz at Florida State Prison. Díaz's death took thirty-four minutes, about twice as long as normal, and required a rare second dose of potassium chloride.
Contrary to accusations of cruelty, lethal injection was introduced in Oklahoma in 1977 as a humane alternative to previous methods of execution. In fact, most death penalty methods were developed in order to reduce suffering. Death by cyanide gas was first approved by the Nevadalegislature in 1921 when toxicologist Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton recommended it as more humane than firing squad or hanging and less gruesome than electrocution. The electric chair was first used in 1890 by the state of New York as a humane alternative to hanging. Even France adopted the guillotine as the official means of execution in 1792 when Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French doctor and member of the Revolutionary National Assembly, recommended it as more humane than previous death penalty methods. Despite repeated attempts to reduce the infliction of pain, every single method of carrying out capital punishment is considered "cruel and unusual" by death penalty opponents.
The Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishments" cannot accurately be construed to rule out the death penalty inasmuch as capital punishment was in force throughout the United States at the time the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written and remained in place well after they were ratified. What the framers sought to prevent was deliberate torture, such as the use of an iron maiden, the rack, or tar and feathering. The inevitability of pain experienced by a condemned man while his sentence is carried out was not the issue.
God has demanded the use of the death penalty since the great flood (Genesis 9:6), and has, in times past, specified certain methods of execution. Some were to be stoned (Leviticus 20:2, 27; 24:16; Numbers 15:35-36; Deuteronomy 21:21; 22:21, 24). Others were to be shot (Exodus 19:12-13; 2nd Kings 9:24). Still others were to be hanged (Deuteronomy 21:22; Joshua 8:29; 10:26-27). Not one of these methods would meet with approval by modern opponents.
Reportedly, Díaz's last words were these: "The death penalty is not only a form of vengeance, but also a cowardly act by humans. I'm sorry for what is happening to me and my family who have been put through this". At the time Ángel Nieves Díaz shot Joseph Nagy to death during a 1979 armed robbery in Miami he was a fugitive from a Puerto Rican prison where he was serving a second degree murder sentence for stabbing a sleeping man nineteen times. The notion that such a violent offender is somehow a victim is patently absurd. Nonetheless, one thing he said is true: the death penalty is a form of vengeance. It should be.
In the present age, God has removed vengeance from the personal realm (Romans 12:17-21; 1st Thessalonians 5:15), and transferred it to the state, saying, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:1-4).
Considering the retaliatory role of the government, it does not seem at all unreasonable to spend thirty-four minutes putting to death a double murderer and thief.
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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