A number of state legislatures have before them discussions and/or bills to modify systems of capital punishment. There is an increased awareness that “lethal injection” has proven itself as much of a failure in making the formal killing of others as “humane” as was the failure of the “electric chair” to be a more decent alternative to the brutal practice of “hanging.” “What to do, what to do?”, wail those who believe that civilized society can only be brought about if the power of the state to inflict death upon undesirables is preserved in some form. The Utah legislature is considering a bill to bring back the “firing squad” to accomplish this end. Perhaps in some state, the proposal will be made that returning to burning at the stake, or crushing by heavy stones, will be as effective in ridding society of its modern persona non grata as such methods were in eliminating the threat of witches centuries ago!
One state legislature is considering another option: ending capital punishment altogether. Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers – a thoughtful and interesting politician good at rattling establishment cages – has a bill before that state’s unicameral to abolish the savage practice of killing people. One point that is rarely discussed in capital punishment debates goes beyond the indecency inflicted upon the condemned. When the state is given the power to inflict death upon others, respect for the sacred nature of life is always diminished. What does it do to the psyches – perhaps the very souls – of men, women, and children when the state, with which so many have identified themselves, treats life with such disrespect, even contempt? Might the twenty-two per day suicide deaths of former soldiers provide evidence of the dehumanizing costs associated with the state’s unrestrained exercise of violence? Sen. Chambers’ bill is deserving of far greater consideration than are the thoughts of those who struggle within their own “dark sides” to devise more “humane” ways of torturing and destroying the lives of others.