Punishment That’s Cruel But Hardly Unusual

What does capital punishment have to do with abortion? More than you might imagine.

Attorneys for condemned California murder-rape convict Michael Morales are reported to be preparing for an important hearing in a U.S. District Court (Judge Jeremy Fogel). They will argue that capital punishment by lethal injection is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

For the record, The Center For Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) opposes this execution but not merely because we believe a particular method of capital punishment is especially barbaric. As an attorney, I know from personal experience how imperfect are even the best systems of criminal justice. For capital offenders, the only sentence which can later be reversed is a sentence of imprisonment. And by the way, for lots of reasons (generally bad ones) many of these defendants are found to have admitted to crimes they never committed.

Mr. Morales’ defense team had already won a delay in their client’s execution when they persuaded Judge Fogel to rule that the convict could not be killed unless the lethal injection procedure were altered to kill the inmate with a single injection (using a fatal dose of sedative) instead of the usual three-drug process (which uses a tranquilizer to render the inmate unconscious — before he is paralyzed by a second drug and then has his heart stopped by the third. This third compound, potassium chloridehappens to be the same agent used to kill babies in late-term abortions. But the judge’s order also provided that should the single injection alternative not prove feasible, an anesthesiologist had to be pressed into service to monitor the application of the three-drug procedure and ensure that the “lethal injection was not excessively painful” (Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2006, “Killer-Rapist is Set to Die by Injection”). When no healthcare professionals could be enlisted to participate in either procedure, prison authorities were unable to proceed with execution.

A journal article, (Obstet. Gynecol. 1992, Aug. 80(20):300) appearing at PubMed.gov, describes the killing of unborn children aged nineteen through twenty-four weeks (that is six months following fertilization – well beyond the age of viability) using “fetal intracardiac potassium chloride.” What’s significant here isn’t merely the fact that this is the same substance used to kill inmates. The real outrage (beyond the injustice of the abortions themselves) is that the babies are tortured to death without benefit of the anesthesia whose efficacy is at issue in the inmate executions.

But the aforementioned twenty-four week abortions are nothing. Late-term abortionist George Tiller advertises his willingness to kill unborn children through 37 weeks. That is the ninth month of pregnancy. An article I wrote for National Review magazine (November 10, 1997) describes the horror of the heart attacks he induces with an equally lethal drug:

The euphemism Tiller uses to describe the actual killing of ‘disabled’ children is ‘premature delivery of a stillborn.’ The baby is ‘born still,’ of course, because Tiller has injected his heart with a lethal dose of digoxin. He says this ensures that the child ‘will not experience any discomfort during the procedure’ [but he dishonestly defines ‘procedure’ as the process of removing the dead baby – not what happens during the painful killing of that baby]. He then induces labor and in a few hours, the baby is born dead. But how long does it take for cardiac arrest to occur? Most people who have suffered a heart attack describe it as an excruciatingly painful experience. And with only ultrasound to guide the syringe toward the baby’s beating heart, what if a misplaced needle delivers the poison to the wrong spot? Or what if the baby moves just before being stabbed, as late-term, kicking babies often do? And does the child squirm and thrash after being impaled on the needle?

One is also left to wonder how much ‘discomfort’ is experienced by the many thousands of younger, ‘healthy’ fetuses Tiller routinely tears limb from limb before he kills them, [also] without benefit of anesthesia. Because people tend to be squeamish at the thought of a fetus being tortured to death, most abortionists are understandably reluctant to acknowledge the problem of fetal pain. Tiller obviously believes that he can raise the issue with impunity. And since he’s not killing kitties, perhaps he’s right.

An earlier Los Angeles Times article (February 18, 2006, “Morales Loses Clemency Bid as Doctors Fight Role in Execution”) paraphrased Judge Fogel’s characterization of the potassium chloride and its companion drug as “painful.” The article goes on:

An array of professional medical organizations lashed out against the court prescription, saying that it contradicts a physician’s obligation to save lives.

* * *

Dr. Priscilla Ray, head of the American Medical Assn. [AMA], said Fogel’s ruling disregarded a doctor’s ethical obligations. ‘A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution,’ she said.

The California Medical Assn. and the American Society of Anesthesiologists agreed.

* * *

In a declaration submitted Feb. 14, [Dr. Mark] Heath said the involvement of an anesthesiologist ‘is an easily taken step that would greatly reduce the possibility of an inhumane execution.’

Doesn’t the AMA sound “ethical” when discussing prisoner executions? But consider what they have to say about abortion (American Medical Association Policy Compendium, Women Physicians [sic] Conference, H-5.982 Late-Term Pregnancy Termination Techniques (ama-assn.org)). After matter-of-factly endorsing the Roe v. Wade decision (which legalizes every abortion at every point in pregnancy when performed for any reason or no reason at all), the Association can barely stifle a yawn as it addresses third-trimester abortion, casually suggesting that “…the near certainty of the independent viability of the fetus argues for ending the pregnancy by appropriate delivery.” Note the choice of words; “argues for” not “mandates” saving this full-term baby. Nor are they troubled enough over this infanticide to demand a change in the law. These guys are so pro-abortion that they can’t even bring themselves to express concern for the pain these babies experience.

And the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is little better, refusing to take any “… position on the appropriateness of any abortion procedure, including [partial-birth abortion].” (Dr. Norig Ellison, M.D., President, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 1995).

In fact, the pro-abortion California Medical Association is so bad on this issue that they oppose even parental notification as a predicate to abortions performed on minor children.

In an article entitled “State Will Help Shape Fate of Lethal Injection,” February 23, 2006, The Los Angeles Times reported the origins of much of the prisoner execution controversy:

California ‘is legitimately criticized for not doing enough homework on the [lethal injection] protocol,’ which calls for a three-drug cocktail of a sedative, a paralytic agent and a heart-stopping chemical, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento.

* * *

In April, the British journal Lancet published an article saying lethal injection, employed by 37 states as presumably painless, may inflict unnecessary suffering because of a routine failure to use enough anesthesia, according to a study of autopsies of executed inmates.

* * *

What happened in the Morales case, [UC Berkeley law professor Frank] Zimring said, ‘is a wonderful example of how much the whole execution process depends on worked-out routines that normally don’t get challenged.’

* * *

‘First and foremost, what we are seeing is [sic] the same problems with previous methods of execution,’ said Elisabeth Semel of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

‘When human beings endeavor to kill one another, there is no such thing as a perfect, clean, problem-free process.’

And baby killing is an even less “perfect, clean and problem-free process” than killing inmates.

One day earlier, the Times carried another story on the same topic, describing the Lancet study in greater detail:

The [medical journal] article reported that in 43 of 49 executions, the anesthetic administered during lethal injections was lower than that required for surgery.

In nearly half the inmates from Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, post-mortem concentrations of the anesthetic sodium thiopental in the blood were low enough that the prisoners might have been conscious during the execution and in severe pain.

If inmates who get too little anesthetic might be in “severe pain” from the potassium chloride used to kill them, how could the same not be true of full-term babies killed with the same lethal agent? These full-term babies are as old as and older than the prematurely born infants routinely treated for pain in the neonatal intensive care units of children’s hospitals all over the world.

In the above-mentioned Senate testimony of ASA President Norig Ellison, M.D., the doctor also detailed the effects of anesthesia (or lack thereof) on the unborn children being killed through partial-birth abortion:

The fact is that when general anesthesia is administered to the mother, only a portion reaches the fetus — the amount varying depending on the type of anesthesia; anesthesia administered regionally does not reach the fetus.

…[S]ome general analgesic medicines given to the mother will reach the fetus and perhaps provide some pain relief.

Some analgesics? Perhaps provide some pain relief? That sounds even less certain than the very low level of anesthetic confidence which surrounds similar inmate executions.

These facts are all the more disturbing in light of an April 5, 2006 British Broadcasting Corporation story (news.BBC.co.uk) which reported the results of a study conducted on pain and neonates. Using brain scan technology, University College, London researchers concluded that prematurely born infants experience true “feelings of pain rather than simply displaying reflex reactions.”

The moral solution to this torture by abortion is obviously to stop the slaughter, not to merely anesthetize the victim. But until America ends abortion genocide, half-measures will have to do.

Congress is currently considering two abortion-related “pain awareness” bills (HR-356, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and S-151, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS). These measures would require that when seeking abortions, mothers of unborn children aged twenty or more weeks following fertilization be informed of the potential for their “fetus” to sense the pain associated with his or her abortion.

At some future time, a more civilized society will stop this barbarity. The generations which follow will look back on this present dark age and refuse to forgive the killing of these children. But they may also demand special trials for those who went the next step and tortured them to death. The rest of us will stand before God and explain how we could have allowed it to happen.

Posted in Abortion Facts