Sunday, November 05, 2006

Another death in Iraq
As expected, Saddam Hussein was found guilty in his crimes against humanity trial today and sentenced to death by hanging, along with two other members of his regime.

Hanging is one of the oldest-known methods of formal execution. Dr. Charles explains what happens in a typical hanging.
Physiologically speaking, the cause of death depends upon the mechanism. If the body is released from a high position then death usually occurs as a result of severing of the spinal cord between C1 and C2 at the base of the skull. This paralyzes the muscles of the diaphragm in addition to those of the body. If spinal cord injury is not the immediate cause then occlusion of the major blood vessels to the brain usually is. Both venous and arterial blockage contribute to death. When the internal jugular veins are collapsed the brain swells and and chokes off the small vessels feeding the substance of the brain. The carotid arteries, which deliver oxygen rich blood, take more force to collapse given their deeper position in the neck and the higher pressures of blood flowing within. When cerebral circulation is compromised in any event, death occurs within 4-5 minutes. The heart may continue to beat autonomously for up to 10-15 minutes (since it has its own pacemaker) after the brain is no longer resurrectable. The body and limbs may move after death because of nervous and muscular reflexes. The face becomes blue and engorged. A classic forensic sign of strangulation is petechiae, or small red dots, from burst blood capillaries of the face and eyes. The increase in arterial carbon dioxide triggers strong reactions in the body and mind that are among the most distressing possible.

To those who find this method barbaric, consider the "humane" alternative that we have created in this country.
Most states that execute use the lethal injection method because it has the appearance of being more humane than the old methods of hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, and electric chair. It is not more humane, but it is less messy, and that's what allows them to keep up the all important appearance of humaneness.

For lethal injection, the prisoner is set up with an IV and three chemicals are pumped into them in sequence. The first chemical is supposed to knock the prisoner unconscious. This is the first key to the illusion of humaneness: if the prisoner is asleep, we think they won't feel anything. The death is supposed to be like freezing to death: the victim grows tired and numb, falls asleep, and never wakes up. More importantly for the illusion, an unconscious victim doesn't make noise or show pain the way a conscious one would....

The second chemical induces paralysis in all the muscles of the body except the heart. If nothing else is done, the prisoner will slowly and painfully suffocate when their chest muscles stop working. If the prisoner is not completely asleep, they feel that pain. The main purpose of paralysis is to keep the condemned from flopping around and upsetting the witnesses. Many states have laws against using these drugs to kill unwanted animals, but we still use them to kill unwanted humans.

The third chemical induces a heart attack. Heart attacks can be very painful, but they are not always fatal. Once again, if the prisoner is not completely asleep, they feel that pain. And, if the first heart attack isn't fatal, they lie there suffocating while the medical technician prepares a second heart attack.

This is not the best place for a discussion of my philosophy of the death peanalty (I'm against it, period). I have no sympaty for Saddam; I wanted him to leave this planet long before he was our enemy, even before he was our friend. Back before Don Rumsfeld ran guns to Saddam I wanted him gone. But, I still think it's wrong to kill him. Make him harmless. Lock him up. Put him in a clean, sterile room and watch him twenty-four hours a day. Wish him a long miserable life, like Rudolph Hess had. That should be enough.

Killing him will not heal Iraq. Killing him will not bring about a national closure. Killing him will not cause the anti-American resistance to suddenly collapse. One more dead body will not help anything.

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