There was a period of time last year when it appeared as though President Obama had plans to end the federal death penalty. This issue came up after a questionable execution in Oklahoma that caused former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. to review the capital punishment laws. The New York Times reported that the issue has come to the surface again regarding whether or not lethal injection drugs cause suffering. The medical answer remains unclear, and this uncertainty is what continues to make an already difficult issue an even harder one. The Supreme Court continues to review this proposal but some say that even though it is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough. The fact that even one lethal injection did not work and resulted in the prisoner waking up in pain, thus defeating the purpose of a painless death, is too many already.
While these issues alone should be enough to have the death penalty kept on hold until further actions can be taken, it’s not just the lethal injection argument that resonates with this issue. Other arguments that have been around for years are also coming up. These include racial disparities and the risk of executing innocent people, as The New York Times mentions. Despite these claims, the White House has been reportedly trying to keep its focus narrow when approaching the issue, focusing on one flaw in the system rather than several. Whether or not this is the right approach is a whole other story. This debate has brought attention to many issues, but even those who did oppose the death penalty urge the Justice Department to proceed with caution. Those people believe that an announcement could potentially have more negative consequences than positive ones.
Another concern of this discussion is the question of what will happen if lethal injections are no longer available. Some fear that states may opt for older methods of execution, such as a firing squad, an electric chair or gas chambers. All of these are highly unethical because they do result in a painful death. Also, what about the people who are guilty, such as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombings? The New York Times explains that there are many obstacles to get through and many questions to answer before any decision to move forward can be made. However, this never made it to Obama and it may be inappropriate for him to attempt to make a major policy change when he’s leaving office soon. Currently, the discussion is still in the Supreme Court and some, like Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, hope that members will rule the lethal drugs unconstitutional. Like many issues that have two strongly opinionated and valid sides, this one is not going to be settled easily. It might not even be solved any time soon, but it is coming back to the surface from last year and many should be aware of the path it’s taking.