An approaching storm of our own making
If we base our perspective on capital punishment solely upon media reporting, it is easy to believe that resistance to the death penalty in the US is limited to a relatively small faction of “liberal” individuals and organizations, all of whom are summarily derided by the more “conservative” faction. Ironically enough, many of those same conservatives at the same time refer to themselves as being “pro-life.” Given the seemingly lopsided dialog, one might further assume that the issue is little more than a tempest in a teapot. When one takes a broader – particularly a more global – view, however, it becomes obvious that the teapot is gargantuan in size, and the tempest takes on the proportion of a rapidly-approaching category five storm.
Even on the domestic front, more and more citizens are having reservations about the propriety – much less the logistical efficiency – of capital punishment. To give but one example, despite the public’s universal revulsion for the crimes that led up to the January execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio, the fact that it took him a full 25 minutes to succumb to the drugs used in his lethal injection, and that his death was likely agonizing has left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths. What is less universally understood are the reasons for such an untidy execution having taken place. To put it simply, the pharmaceutical companies that had previously supplied the drugs used in lethal injections have grown increasingly unwilling to sell their products for the purpose of killing people. Not only are such sales diametrically opposed to the companies’ publicly touted purpose – to improve lives – but the very act of government-sanctioned killing of its own citizens is abhorrent to most countries in the developed world, particularly the members of the European Union. Even many of what would be considered developing countries such as Mexico have outlawed capital punishment.
History is not on our side
The EU’s blanket rejection of capital punishment is easy to understand. In the last century alone, the whole of Europe was engulfed by two world wars, during which the Axis powers used mass executions as a means to both eliminate and intimidate their enemies. To the antagonists, execution was no longer a tool by which to impose justice. It became instead a brutal and efficient tool by which to quell dissent and enforce unquestioning loyalty. Prior to the twentieth century, the history of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East was wrought with acts of barbarism beyond count. It is a history which the countries would be more than happy to set aside, never to be repeated. And while Americans are inclined to scoff at their country’s actions being compared to those of Hitler, Mussolini, and Pol Pot, the rest of the world sees the difference as being merely of degrees, rather than of actual values. That perception is only reinforced with each instance of a particularly problematic execution, and with each report of demonstrators demanding the death of a convicted criminal. Furthermore, given many of our political figures’ vehement public endorsement and support of capital punishment, it is understandable how observers in other countries could perceive a frightening similarity to the darkest periods of their own history.
While this revulsion to capital punishment hasn’t made a significant impression upon Americans as of yet, we are already beginning to feel the creeping effects of being ostracized by our closest allies. From a trade standpoint, our European neighbors are refusing to export any drugs to the US that could end up being used for imposing the death penalty. This is compounded by the fact that many of our domestic pharmaceutical companies have strong ties to (or at least partial ownership by) their EU counterparts, and must therefore adopt practices that do not place them at odds with their EU partners and owners. And from a diplomatic standpoint, we are seeing other countries’ increasing resistance to US attempts to extradite individuals who have been convicted of capital crimes in this country.
How long will it take before we in the US realize that by continuing to accept, support, and even brag about actions that the rest of the world sees as barbaric, we are making a pariah of ourselves in the eyes of the greater world? Will we wait until we are effectively shunned by those who should be our closest allies and most eager trading partners? The decision is clear; we either begin to consider and work in a manner that doesn’t offend the moral sensibilities of the rest of the world, or we plant our feet firmly and stubbornly and do exactly as we please. Whether we want to accept it or not, our country’s future standing and prosperity will be greatly determined by our decision.