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Cruel and unusual.

According to a 2002 article in the Journal of Forensic Science, it takes an average of 8.4 minutes for a lethal injection protocol to achieve the desired end. The most common one involves the insertion of intravenous lines and the administration of three drugs. These are sodium thiopental, which depresses the central nervous system in 30 seconds, inducing a degree of unconsciousness that makes pain undetectable; pancuronium bromide, a relaxant which takes 30-45 seconds to induce paralysis and respiratory arrest; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart in around 30 seconds. Given procedural delays, errors in IV line insertion, and delays in pronouncing death, the whole process takes around 10 minutes.

It all sounds simple and painless, but these quick facts are only the tip of an iceberg of debates-decades-long arguments on the effectivity and ultimate humaneness of the protocol. There are horror stories of failed IV line insertions with incorrect administration of thiopental, of autopsies revealing inadequate blood levels of one or more of the said drugs, of convicts struggling to get up long after the injections. Some have noted that the first drug may wear off quickly, which may lead to an agonizing death with inmates unable to express pain because they have been rendered paralyzed. It is easy to suppose that lethal injection as we know it creates the appearance of a painless, quiet death more than actually giving it, hence the controversy surrounding the protocols of lethal injection in the United States.

Even if you begin with the conviction that capital punishment is necessary, the next steps can only get more, not less, complicated. The ethics of each method, up to and including lethal injection-proclaimed the most humane and the least messy-is just as complicated as the debate on whether we should have the death penalty in the first place. In short, even in the United States, equipped with a criminal justice system that is leaps and bounds ahead of ours, there is no one method of capital punishment that is 100-percent effective at achieving a quick, painless, 'humane' death. This is something I want to point out, even as we creep closer to becoming a country with televised deaths by firing squad or public beheadings.

High school classrooms across the country, secular and otherwise, have probably already tackled the old pros and cons of the death penalty debate: deters crime and is a suitable punishment on the former, and acts against the sanctity of life on the latter. I will not rehash these tired arguments, but only point out, as the senators opposed to the death penalty have done, that we do not live in a country where it can be a quick solution to our drug problem or, in President Duterte's words, 'criminality' in general. It probably can't be a solution to anything concrete, but is more likely to be a whole new can of worms, since we live in a climate where (as Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV pointed out recently) policemen are encouraged to plant evidence and to kill with impunity. One also wonders at the naivete of anyone seriously believing that the death penalty can be implemented with any integrity in a country where due process is a fantasy and where erring policemen are punished with pushups. What cruel and unusual punishment to be subjected to the death penalty in a place where murderers walk free and the President talks with relish about killing people with his bare hands. What rich and unamusing irony.

It is typical of this administration that even while we're still reeling from the nightmare of extrajudicial killings, we're also forced to quickly confront issues that were apparently put to bed in previous administrations. If 10 or 20 years ago we would have hesitated to implement such a ruling in our country, with the clear limitations of its criminal justice system, then I beg the reader to consider that the Philippines as it is today, under the current smug, divisive administration, is the worst place where such a bill can possibly be considered, much less implemented.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Feb 10, 2017
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