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.