Usually ethics quizzes on Ethics Alarms involve borderline ethics conflicts or dilemmas that I can’t make up my own mind about. Not this one: on this one: my mind is virtually made up. The arguments that the Arizona plan to use cyanide gas in future executions is an ethics outrage because of previous uses of cyanide gas seem contrived, emotional, and, frankly, weird, with no ethical validity whatsoever. But the intensity of these arguments make me wonder if I’m missing something, and Voilà! An Ethics Quiz!
The state of Arizona allows condemned inmates to choose the gas chamber, rather than lethal injection, if they committed a capital offense before November 23, 1992. Arizona’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is seeking to complete the execution of two men who committed murders before that date, and Arizona officials are reconditioning the state’s mothballed gas chamber in case they pick gas over a shot. Arizona authorities plan to use, if it comes to that, hydrogen cyanide to concoct the fatal agent of death. Cyanide gas is a particular gruesome way to die. It takes almost 20 minutes, in some cases, and this is a problem for some people.
Not for me: I find the obsession with making sure executions of the upper tier monsters who earn capitol punishment as pleasant as a spring day to be incomprehensible, and always have. We’re killing someone. It might hurt a little, and it won’t be pretty. An 18 minute judicially sanctioned death isn’t “cruel and unusual,” especially if the subject chose it. What I find cruel and unusual is the way our endless system of appeals dangles executions over the heads of Death Row inmates like a Sword of Damocles from Hell.
But I digress. No, the objection to the gas chamber option in Arizona (unless it’s part of a disingenuous strategy to try to stop executions generally, which wouldn’t surprise me) is that the poison gas the state plans to use would mean that the executions would be carried out using the same poison used in Nazi death camps. Headlines noting that hydrogen cyanide was the same poison contained in Zyklon B has provoked an outcry among Auschwitz survivors in Germany and Israel. “For Auschwitz survivors, the world will finally come apart at the seams, if in any place on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the killing of human beings is considered again,” Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said in an interview. “In their eyes, this is a disgraceful act that is unworthy of any democracy and, moreover, insults the victims of the Holocaust,” he said.
To begin with, nobody will be using Zyklon B, which was a trade name and a particular product made by a particular company. When an advocate uses a deliberately misleading or emotion-based argument, I become suspicious of the advocate. But what is the objection here? It seems like a bizarre cognitive dissonance exercise regarding a matter that requires no further dissonance. A short supply of lethal drugs has pushed several states to seek alternatives, as in South Carolina, where lawmakers have proposed reviving either the electric chair or firing squads. Wait though: many Holocaust victims were shot. Doesn’t using a firing squad constitute the same “insult” to Holocaust survivors?
Where did the idea come from that any execution method that was used unjustly on others by another culture at another time is permanently unsuitable for carrying out a legitimate and just death sentence? Must Arizona beat its condemned to death with frozen wombats to make sure its executions are sufficiently unique?
The objection to the choice of poison in Arizona seems be a matter of “Ick” rather than ethics. Any method of killing a human being is icky by definition. How icky is too icky?
As I said at the outset, I don’t get it. But anyway…
Your Ethics Quiz of the Day is this: