Sunday, January 6, 2008

Death Penalty by Lethal Injection: Humane or Inhumane?

As reported below by the New York Times, China plans to replace execution by shooting in the head with lethal injection, thus providing a more “humane” method of capital punishment.

China plans to expand the use of lethal injection to replace the current method of execution, a shot to the back of the head, the newspaper China Daily quoted Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, as saying. Half of the 404 intermediate people’s courts, which carry out most executions, now use lethal injection, he said. “It is considered more humane” and “will eventually” be expanded to all such courts, he said without providing a timetable.
Curiously enough, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Baze v. Rees on January 7, 2008. The issue of this case centers not on the constitutionality of the death penalty, but on the constitutionality of the cocktail used in the lethal injections in the United States. Defendants plan to argue that, according to the FoxNews, one of the chemicals used in the cocktail causes severe pain and violates the Eighth Amendment. Basically, they advance the argument that the current chemical mix of lethal injection causes unconstitutional pain and suffering to the convicted.

Here, you have the vice president of the Supreme People’s Court of China advocating the lethal injection, citing that it is more “humane” than the somewhat out-dated (still used in some places) bullet-in-the-head execution. Juxtaposing the apparent “welcome” of lethal injection in China with the growing “challenge” it faces in the United States, one can see the huge differences in the criminal jurisprudence in the two countries.

Apart from the difference, one should, however, not ignore the attention that the death penalty has received in both countries in recent years. In the United States, there has been a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, while the Supreme People’s Court of China now automatically exercises subject matter jurisdiction over every death penalty review case. As debates surrounding the death penalty continue on both sides of the Pacific, it would be interesting to see what results in Baze v. Rees and how it will impact academic discussions in China about lethal injection.

And as we all sit tight for the ruling in Baze v. Rees to descend, the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is--stay tuned.

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