A Violation of “Human Rights”

As the opposition details in its latest argument, “Setting a Bad Example: US Violates Human Rights”, the United States is a role model for the world when it comes to efficiently running a democracy.  In the post the opposition also cites the Bill of Rights, specifically that humans have the right to, “Life, Liberty, and Property”.  The biggest hole in the opposition’s argument is simply their admission that there is no definition of “human rights”.  If we cannot agree on what something is, how are we supposed to agree that every human being is entitled to it?

It is tough to believe an argument that the United States is violating human rights when we cannot come to a general agreement what rights are being violated.  The opposition goes on to cite, “The Death Penalty Information Center” and discusses two instances in which executions were “botched”.  The first, concerning John Evans of Alabama and an error with electrodes, is not a good example of what the opposition calls, “cruel and unusual punishment”.  Intent is the most important part of our refutation to this aspect.  Evans was not a defenseless man tortured, rather he was a convicted criminal that unfortunately was the victim of technical difficulties.  The opposition continues to state that lethal injections have become a more popular form of execution and so this problem will not occur as often.

The next case the opposition presents is the case of John Hightower of Georgia.  It took 40 minutes for the executioner to find a vein to inject the chemicals that would end Hightower’s life, and he was not pronounced dead until 59 minutes after the execution began.  While this means of execution was not as efficient as usual, the extra time it took to complete the process did not cause any additional suffering to Hightower as it did to Evans.  During the process of finding a vein, all Hightower did was sit there.  After that, the chemicals were injected into his bloodstream, and he died later without pain.  This hardly qualifies as a cruel and unusual punishment.

In their latest argument, the opposition tries to present an argument that is based upon something that they cannot define.  In addition to that, they are attempting to make criminals out to be victims because of a few cases of inefficient execution.  While these two examples are not the ideal examples of capital punishment, they are still two examples in which criminals faced a punishment they deserved.  They were in no way tortured in a cruel on unusual way.


About mikemozier

Sophomore at University of Maryland, Aspiring Journalist, Local Legend, Sport Enthusiast.

5 thoughts on “A Violation of “Human Rights”

    • I don’t negate the fact that intent is a significant part of the discussion. In fact, I think it is relevant to the affirmative’s argument as well. Consider the case of Tison v. Arizona: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/arizona-1

      “In 1986 this issue came before the Supreme Court of the United States, with the Tison brothers arguing that Arizona’s felony murder statute was unconstitutional because it allowed for the death penalty for those other than the actual killer. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rejected their appeal, stating that major participants in a felony who exhibit extreme indifference to human life are eligible for the death penalty.”

      Although the Tison brothers had their sentences reduced, the Court upheld the proportionality principle, maintaining that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the crime. In essence, felony-murder accomplices are still subject to the death penalty regardless of whether or not they had the intention to kill.

      The opposition argues that since there is no formerly accepted definition of “human rights” we cannot agree that everyone is entitled to it. Following their logic, what does “extreme indifference to human life” mean? Is there a reasonably clear definition? Seems somewhat subjective and arbitrary if you ask me. So the real question is: Is it just to execute individuals who neither kill nor intend to kill? I think not, but the Supreme Court’s decision says otherwise.

  1. Firstly, botched executions aside, I don’t think it’s particularly hard to define the human rights which the US is violating by allowing the death penalty. Article 6.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” – this was signed and ratified by the US in 1968 (although the USA adheres poorly to this piece of international law, and in 2006 the Human Rights Committee issued specific concern at the US’ “material non-compliance” with multiple parts of the Covenant. However, the USA’s broader human rights record is not the discussion point here.)

    This comes down to whether you argue that capital punishment represents the arbitrary deprivation of life – this depends on your perception of the quality of the criminal justice system, and the allocation of sentences. I have to admit I lack knowledge on the detail of the American justice system to comment on whether the method of conviction could be considered arbitrary. However, to select just one example, the fact that convicted killers of African-Americans were 4 times less likely to be executed for their crime than those convicted of murdering white victims (1), suggests that there must be at least some inequality in the manner with which sentencing is performed, leaving the judicial system open to allegations of being “arbitrary” and therefore in infringement of international human rights law.

    The second point I would like to challenge is regarding the execution of John Hightower (or indeed any individual executed using the lethal injection). Regarding this, you state “After that the chemicals were injected into his bloodstream and he died later without pain. This hardly qualifies as a cruel and unusual punishment.”. I’d primarily like to challenge the assertion that this death was painless. The typical pharmacological regimen used in the lethal injection is:
    – Sodium thiopental for induction of anaesthesia
    – Pancurionium for neuromuscular blockade
    – Potassium chloride induces cardiac arrest
    All are drugs which are used relatively commonly in medical practice (the latter for stopping the heart during cardiac surgery) and which I have some limited experience of using within this context. The key point is that pancuronium provides blockade of the neuromuscular junction, rendering the victim unable to move, or in any way express pain – therefore it is impossible to say with any level of confidence whether pain is experienced by the victim during execution. Theoretically the induction of anaesthesia with the sodium thiopental should prevent the victim from experiencing pain, but there is simply not enough evidence to prove this. In medical practice the induction agent would usually be followed almost immediately with another drug for the maintenance of anaesthesia. This is not done during executions, are there simply is not a sufficient evidence basis to say with any confidence whether the dose is sufficient to provide continuous anaesthesia while the heart is stopped. Certainly any delay between administering the induction agent and the potassium chloride would seriously increase the risk of the patient not being anaesthetised (but remaining paralysed by the pancuronium) when their heart was stopped.

    What is clear, however, is that the process of inducing cardiac arrest is extremely painful. This is done in a temporary manner for the emergency treatment of life-threatening tacchy-arrhythmias, admittedly with a different drug (adenosine) which works in a slightly different manner, but with broadly the same physiological consequences. This process lasts only a few seconds, and is only performed with the patient heavily sedated, yet despite this, the few occasions I’ve seen this procedure have involved the patient being in more pain than I have ever witnessed otherwise. It is in-controversial that if for any reason the victim was not under sufficient anaesthesia at the time the potassium chloride was administered during an execution (either due to an unforeseen delay, insufficient induction agent, or individual variation in the metabolism rate of the sodium thiopental) they would be in unspeakable pain, and due to the effect of the pancuronium be entirely unable to communicate this in any manner.

    Finally, and on a more emotive note, I’d like to challenge the latter part of your statement, that this “hardly qualifies as an […] unusual punishment”, As a European I have to say we find the American attitude towards capital punishment utterly alien. To us, it is simply unthinkable that the government of any developed country (and particularly one that prides itself so much in protecting individual liberty) should feel it has the right to deprive any of its citizens of life. If we choose to rank the world’s countries according to the corruption perception index (admittedly a slightly arbitrary value, but perhaps a better indicator of social and democratic development than simply GDP/capita) only one country (Japan) ranks above the US and continues to use capital punishment (2) (the US ranks 24 (3)). In fact of the 23 counties which continue to actively enforce the death penalty, the vast majority fall into the bottom half of the international corruption rankings. meaning that amongst democratic countries with a developed societal architecture the use of capital punishment is most certainly unusual.

    (1) – http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/race-and-death-penalty
    (2) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment#Global_distribution
    (3) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_Perceptions_Index

    • Perhaps a few of my statements were a big to vague, particularly by saying there is evidence that lethal injection is painless. I, personally, do not have as much experience as you do when it comes to the chemicals used in lethal injection. I will stand by my statement that the examples listed in the original article are anomalies. Botched executions are an unfortunate necessity in the mission to find a more “humane way of execution”. I personally do not believe in execution and i believe there is, in no way, a humane way to kill a human being. However, if we are going to continue enforcing capital punishment, i believe we should find a much more efficient way of executing criminals so people are not tortured while they are being killed. If killing must be done, then it should be done in the most gentle, economically friendly way possible.

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