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A Good Death

Hanging, lethal injection, electrocution, poisonous gas, firing squad - these are the methods by which various states conduct capital punishment. As a "civilized society," we endure an ongoing debate over whether to continue on with capital punishment or how to make it more aesthetic if we do go through with it.

I don't know when this article will be published but I can almost guarantee that somewhere else on the pages of a newspaper, if not today, this very week, there will be an article on a wanton murder. The body of a kidnapped child may be found in some hillside brush; a store owner may be robbed and killed; a woman may be raped and murdered; a child may be shot by a man-child. Accordingly, the hot topic of 1994 and an inevitable issue in the upcoming elections will be "law and order." There will be lots of discussion about increasing sentences, reducing the options of parole and plea bargaining, hiring more police, and building more prisons. A discussion on changing how we deal with capital punishment and capital criminals should also be on the agenda.

California prisons currently hold 381 inmates under sentence of death, 1300 who have sentences of life without the possibility of parole, and nearly 11,000 with life sentences. It costs $20,751 per year for each inmate. The average age of an inmate is 31. If these men live a normal life expectancy, it will cost California more than $10,000,000,000 (that's ten billion dollars) to house them in the course of their lifetime.

At the risk of being labeled the Dr. Kevorkian of Westlake Village, I think part of the ongoing debate about law and order should address his proposals to allow condemned convicts to volunteer for "painless" medical experiments that, indeed, could prove fatal, but could also offer great benefits for medical research and health advancement. This topic and idea has been shunted aside perhaps because many disapprove of Dr. Kevorkian's methods of euthanasia, and perhaps because they seem too reminiscent of Nazi experiments on human beings. But we are not talking about experimenting on political prisoners or committing genocidal atrocities, we are talking about people undoubtedly convicted of some horrible murder or some other heinous crime. We are talking about asking them to "volunteer" for "painless" and "useful" medical experimentation. Those sentenced to death should be offered the option of providing some benefit to society by consenting to useful medical experimentation as an alternative to the gas chamber. Those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole should also be given the option. And other lifers might consider permitting the experimentation if there was hope of a shorter sentence.

There will be ongoing debate about "law and order" and "crime and punishment." Perhaps the idea of allowing death row and life term prisoners an option to benefit society should also become part of the discussion.