I’ve always been fascinated by the death penalty. It’s macabre fascination for sure, but it’s always been there. I find the idea that we, as a species, ritualistically put our own to death to be bizarre behavior. And I can’t stress the “ritual” part enough, because that’s what it is. Some might try to claim it’s a “process” or just “the law” but really, it’s a series of rituals that culminates with someone who was hopefully a bad person (fingers crossed) dead. Being a Catholic, I’m supposed to oppose the continued existence of it. And I do, but at the same time, when I see someone like Scott Peterson, who described himself as “too jazzed to sleep” the night before he was transferred to San Quentin’s death row for murdering his pregnant wife, yea, I sort of want to see him die. But the Death Penalty costs money. Lots of it. And you can’t say “well, speed it up” because it removes due process, which is a cornerstone of our justice system. Death penalty trials also cost more, and housing death row inmates costs significantly more than someone serving life. Anyone who claims to be a fiscal conservative can’t in good conscience support the death penalty.
Plus, you know, there’s the whole “we could end up executing the wrong person” thing. Despite the Indie Gamer Chick character being a bit of a psychopath, I can’t possibly imagine that I could ever end up on Death Row. But innocent people do end up on it, and some of them might even be put to death. And I’ve often wondered, if I was in that position, what method would I want to go out under? I was pondering that this week when someone walked into my living room with dog shit on their shoes, and decided, hey, this is the type of uplifting food-for-thought that my readers might dig. So let’s figure it out.
Here’s the rules I made for myself just now: I only considered the ten most common methods used globally from the 20th century onward. The person being executed is me. I’m between 4’11 and 5’0, depending on if I have shoes on and I fluctuate between 94lbs to 98lbs on average. Yep, I’m tiny. And yes, size and weight does matter. You’ll see why when I go over the methods. With that in mind, here’s what my top considerations would be, in the order I would care.
That I lose consciousness quickly.
I don’t care how quick death happens. The whole execution can take an hour for all that I care. As long as I’m not alert during it and can’t feel it happening, that’s all that really should matter. In theory, I’d rather hurt intensely for ten seconds and lose consciousness than hurt slightly less but for a longer period of time.
How much pain is involved.
When it comes to capital punishment, historically the death of the condemned was just the cherry on top of the sundae. Being executed was supposed to hurt. A lot. But, as society has grown more “enlightened”, we’ve searched out ways to make state-sanctioned murder less barbaric and more “humane.” Though the “humane” part is up for debate. Really, reforming the death penalty was more about removing the icky, watery parts of it. Bloodless methods of death. Even if those methods are inferior and not as painless as they appear on the surface. And the condemned not leaving puddles of blood and piss behind was supposed to be somehow more dignified for them. I’m sure those who died these more humane deaths strutted up to the Pearly Gates with great pride knowing that the janitor didn’t even need a mop to clean up after them. Anyway, I don’t want it to hurt too much.
How fool-proof the method is.
Newsflash: we botch executions all the time. They did it so many times in a row in Oklahoma that their state legislators approved a new method (nitrogen hypoxia, which won’t be considered for this list since it hasn’t been used yet, but would be my #1 choice if I could). (UPDATE 2020: Oklahoma has since abandoned the idea.) Let’s say I’m being killed but with the best of intentions. How likely are they to screw it up and make me suffer unintentionally? Funny enough, for as many human beings we as a society have ritualistically put to death over the course of our existence, it’s not really an exact science. Or possibly it was at one point but that method was really gory so we’re back to the laboratory to tinker around more. As small as I am, I shouldn’t be that hard to kill, but maybe the executioner drank heavily before strapping me in (that happens) or maybe the device being used failed (that happens too), or maybe the drugs I’m being injected with have expired and lost their effectiveness (that happens too). I want a method that someone would have to be intentionally trying to botch it in order for it to not work right. Yea, that happens too.
How easy would it be for a sadist to have fun with it?
In fact, people with bad intentions somehow find ways to become part of the process. Of course they do. It’s their darkest, sickest fantasies made real and completely legal. Executions are carried out by people, and if that person has bad intentions, things can get really nasty. We’ve all seen the Green Mile. We all remember THAT scene (which I can’t even watch anymore, stupid epilepsy). Well, when you make murder legal, that kind of stuff can happen. Can someone who gets off on suffering actually make the execution slower and more painful?
Having considered all these things, I’ll go in reverse order, using the ten most common state-sanctioned execution methods.
#10: Stoning to Death
Procedure: There’s apparently no guidebook on how exactly to carry out a judicial stoning (which, yes, is still a state-sanctioned method of capital punishment in the Middle East as of this writing, but then again, so is crucifixion) and most incidents involving its use in the 21st century were extrajudicial. But, typically the condemned is bound by the hands and feet and placed in a hole, usually deep enough so only their head sticks out. The hole is refilled with dirt. People then throw rocks at the victim’s head and face until she (it will almost certainly be a she. Seriously, cultural tolerance is awesome but I think we should draw the line on the fact that stoning is reserved almost exclusively for women who are routinely semi-extrajudicially torture-killed if they’re accused of having an affair) is dead.
If Everything Goes Right: This is the one and only method still in use today where death isn’t expected to be quick. Stoning someone to death removes all pretense of humanity or dignity. Its purpose is to not just kill the condemned, but humiliate and make them suffer. You’re going to likely survive and retain consciousness during the initial volley of rocks. It’s not like they have Cy Young throwing at you. However, after everyone has gotten a couple throws in, it’s customary to have a coup de grâce where they simply drop a large boulder on your head. If luck is on your side, you won’t last up to that point. Someone will throw the right shaped rock hard enough, fast enough, and accurate enough that it will knock you out or maybe even kill you instantaneously.
But in Reality: I couldn’t find any hard statistics on this, so I ended up having the most awkward conversation ever with my doctor. He concluded that, with all the variables involved, it’s likely the condemned retains some degree of alertness during the entire procedure, and feels every rock that strikes them right until the final blow is ordered. Because torture and humiliation is the desired effect and death, while the ultimate goal, comes secondary to degradation, people are likely to want to hit you in a way that hurts you but doesn’t kill, keeping you alive and suffering as long as possible. Did I mention this is still legal in 2018?
#9: The Gas Chamber
Procedure: The condemned is led into a small airtight chamber with windows so the witnesses can view the execution. They’re strapped to a special chair, then the executioner pours sulfuric acid into an open compartment under the chair. After sealing the chamber shut, the executioner pours pellets of potassium cyanide the size of BBs into a chute. The condemned is reminded to breathe heavily. When the order to begin is given, the executioner activates a lever that releases the pellets, which fall into the sulfuric acid, creating hydrogen cyanide gas. Placing the pool of acid under the condemned is done to assure the gas engulfs them.
If Everything Goes Right: The condemned, assuming they’re able to breathe deeply, will feel intense pain in their chest and discomfort no matter what, but taking three to four deep breaths of the hydrogen cyanide gas in theory could render them unconscious in under 15 seconds. In the days when prisoners were allowed to smoke, if the condemned was a heavy enough smoker, they would lack the cilia to prevent the gas from passing seamlessly into the lungs, assuring the process would be over quicker than for a non-smoker. I am a smoker, so this would apply to me. The body will thrash and the condemned will foam at the mouth, make gargling sounds, and snort, and death can take up to four to six minutes, but consciousness should have ended long before that point.
But in Reality: It’s not as simple as staying calm and taking deep breaths during the ordeal. If you know you’re about to die, you’re probably in a state of panic. Your blood-pressure is going to be off the charts. You’re going to be hyperventilating. There’s also the possibility that you were offered a sedative an hour or two before you were led into the chamber, and if you took it, your respiration is going to be further compromised. Successfully losing your consciousness during a gas chamber execution is fully dependent on getting enough hydrogen cyanide into your blood stream and not enough oxygen that you faint. But you have to be able to hold the painful gas in your lungs long enough for it to metabolize into you. Would you be able to deliberately fill your lungs up with water and still keep calm? Of course not. Death by gas chamber is like that, only replace the water with fire. And speaking of which, since smoking is banned in all prisons, the condemned (in this case, me) will have all their cilia, which means I’ll be gagging and choking the entire time.
The result is the most sadistic and painful method of execution we’ve ever done in the United States. When Jimmy Lee Gray was executed in 1983, AP reporters were cleared from the room before the execution was complete because Gray’s death was so violent that they were counting the amount of times he moaned. By time they got to 11, the warden made them leave. This was EIGHT MINUTES into the execution. Even with my small size, there’s no way to avoid suffering. The fact that the choice between this and being stoned to death for “method I’d least want to die by” was the hardest on this list is telling. I had to think for quite a while on it.
Extra Consideration: This is the most expensive and dangerous method of execution by far. It’s so expensive that in California, they designed the gas chamber to accommodate two people at the same time. The rubber seals used to keep the chamber air tight have to be custom-ordered and cost $30,000 each. If the chamber leaks, the smell of burnt almonds will fill up the room and everyone knows they’re well and fucked. Also, the gas is combustible. After the execution, even after the gas is vented out, the condemned will be covered in a thin layer of toxic powder that must be cleaned off. Even performing an autopsy (required by law in all jurisdictions) is dangerous for those involved. So really, the only reason to choose the gas chamber, if you have such an option, is to inconvenience as many people as possible along the way. If I want to do that, I’ll just eat large quantities of Mexican food before they put me down.
Procedure: There’s a lot of ways garotting was carried out judicially in the 20th century, but I’m going to go with the method used by Spain as recent as 1974. The condemned has their arms and legs bound and are sat on a chair or bench with a large beam for the backrest. A collar is placed around their neck. Behind backrest is a stick or wheel that, when turned, tightens the collar around the neck.
If Everything Goes Right: The garotte will squeeze your carotid artery enough to cause you to black-out rather quickly, as in twenty seconds or less, with death coming via strangulation a minute or two later. You’ll still feel the pain and discomfort of being choked up to that point, but you should lose consciousness quickly in most circumstances. Even in the very worst case, most sentenced to die by this method were unconsciousness in under a minute.
But in Reality: Everything up to the point where you fade to black will be agony. You’re not just being strangled. You’re having your neck mechanically crushed. And the pesky quirk of us humans is we’re all built differently. In theory, you should be out fast, but what if you have a tiny carotid artery that the collar isn’t compressing with sufficient pressure? That means you deal with an extended amount of choking and convulsing. And if the executioner either loses his nerve or wants you to suffer, they can stop just short of tightening the collar all the way. You’re still likely to lose consciousness in about a minute, but I’m guessing that will (ironically) be the longest minute of your life. Garotting is one of the only methods where your fear will work out for you. A high blood pressure will actually help hasten the onset of unconsciousness. That’s why choosing it over the gas chamber would be a layup for me, but I’d pretty much rather die by any other means.
Procedure: I’m going to go with the judicial method used in Saudi Arabia. If you’ve seen extremists slowly saw a person’s head off with a knife, that’s not exactly the sanctioned method that’s still legal in the Middle East today. The prescribed method is via sword. The condemned is bound by the arms and legs and made to kneel in front of the executioner. The executioner, armed with a curved, extraordinarily sharp sword known as a Sulthan, swings for the neck, which removes the head from the body.
If Everything Goes Right: If the headsman’s aim is true and their blade sharp enough, only one strike should be needed to remove the person’s head from the body. The whole act of decapitation should take less than one second and death should be instantaneous.
But in Reality: Actually, most executions by this method do go according to the plan. But, the human factor is unavoidable. If the person has a small neck, a thick neck, or just straight-up doesn’t cooperate, multiple strikes could be required. Even then you’ll more than likely have suffered sufficient spinal/neck injury to lose all sensation of pain and consciousness after the first blow. But maybe not. If the headsman is nervous or having a bad day, or if the sword hasn’t been adequately sharpened and maintained, they could miss the neck and spine entirely. You have no idea how many blows will now be required to finish the job, and every blow that doesn’t kill could hurt. Thankfully I have a relatively long neck that’s thin. You could probably lop my head off with a large butter knife being swung hard enough.
Extra Consideration: It’s actually considered taboo under Sharia law to botch a beheading or cause undue suffering. The executioner has every motivation to carry it out correctly. If it’s believed they didn’t do their job with the best intentions, they can face the sword themselves. That’s what made it so hard to choose between beheading via sword and the electric chair. But I never specifically stated where I’m being beheaded. If I’m so unlucky that I’ve been wrongly convicted and sentenced to die, I’m going to assume that rotten luck will carry over to the execution, where I’ll get some hillbilly whose only experience with a sword is playing Legend of Zelda.
#6: The Electric Chair
Procedure: The condemned has their head and one leg shaved. They’re strapped to a wooden chair and electrodes are placed on their leg and head, which makes the prisoner part of a complete circuit that runs to and from the power source. The contacts are not affixed directly to the skin and use sponges soaked in saline to assure the electricity flows freely. When the switch is thrown, various cycles of electricity go through the circuit, including the condemned. Believe it or not, there’s no uniform code for what the voltage or amperage used should be and the duration you run the current, but in all cases at least two different cycles are used. The first is typically a high-cycle, followed by a longer low-cycle.
If Everything Goes Right: The very moment the electricity hits, the prisoner immediately suffers brain-death and goes unconscious. The second cycle is designed to cause fatal damage to all other organs. It goes without saying that if you get sentenced to the chair, you’re probably not donating your otherwise perfectly good heart to a non-murdering 18-year-old who made the honor roll and just got accepted into Harvard. Come to think of it, it’s kind of wasteful to do anything other than just sedate the prisoner, open them up and take out what parts you need, but hey, we have to stick to the ritual. The ritual is what matters. Anyway, if done right, I should be out so fast I wouldn’t even realize what hit me.
But in Reality: Electrocutions get botched more than pretty much any other method. That’s because there’s so many moving parts to the procedure. Sometimes the prison would skip the “shave the head to assure a good connection” part, which would almost certainly prolong the onset of brain-death and cause suffering. Sometimes they would use a synthetic sponge instead of a natural one, which didn’t conduct electricity as well, as was the case with Jesse Tafero in Florida in 1990, which resulted in his head catching fire and requiring more than two cycles to finish the job. Sometimes the power generator didn’t create a sufficient enough energy to quickly induce unconsciousness. Hell, sometimes the prisoner just plain didn’t die. In 1903, officials at Sing Sing thought they had successfully killed a prisoner named Fred Van Wormer in the chair. But after everyone left, the coroner noticed he was still breathing. They called the executioner back to finish the job. Van Wormer died before he got there, but just to be extra sure, they strapped his corpse to the chair and shocked it again.
And then you have the case of Willie Francis, who was only sixteen years old at the time of the crime that he may or may not have committed (there’s a lot of reasonable doubt in his case). When the current was switched on, Francis not only didn’t lose consciousness, but he didn’t die at all. He was simply tortured for a few minutes while he screamed, literally, “I’m not dying!” and begged them to shut it off. The allegedly drunk executioner called for more juice, but the generator simply had not worked, and they shut it down and dragged him back to his cell. The executioner screamed “I missed you this time but I’ll get you next week, even if I have to use an iron bar!” Some sources cite that he said he’d use a rock, but either way, there’s debate on whether or not the racist prison staff deliberately botched the execution so as to get a chance to legally torture a black man. Francis was eventually re-executed a year later, and he remains dead to this day so I guess the second time must have worked.
If the electric chair works right, you’re gone in an instant. But there’s no method that’s still technically in use that has more avenues to go wrong. If you thought Michael Jeter’s execution in the Green Mile could never happen in real life, think again. The electric chair is the furthest thing from fool-proof, and also presents sadistic-types with multiple opportunities to prolong the experience without looking guilty. As someone who used to get glee from shuffling my feet around at Costco and then zapping my parents with static electricity, I feel like I shouldn’t test the karma gods by choosing to ride the lightning myself.
The Procedure: I’m using the long drop (aka the measured drop), which is used by most jurisdictions today (including Japan, who yes, still has the death penalty and executed thirteen people by hanging this last July alone). The condemned is bound by the hands and feet and placed over a trap door. If the person resists standing-still, they may be tied to a “collapse board” that further restrains the person and goes through the trap door with the prisoner (as seen in the 2000 Danish musical Dancer in the Dark). A rope that was boiled and stretched the previous night is slipped around the neck and tightened under the chin. When the signal is given, the trapdoor is sprung and the condemned falls several feet before the rope causes the “hangman’s fracture” to the C2 vertebra.
If Everything Goes Right: The violent fracturing of the person’s neck should also cause enough damage to the brainstem that brain death happens instantly, and unconsciousness is achieved as a consequence of that. The person is immediately paralyzed and rendered immobile, and full clinical death can also be instantaneous. If not, the person will die via strangulation, but not suffer while this is happening.
But in Reality: Hangmen of the 20th century (including Albert Pierrepoint, the famous “Last Hangman of Britain”) might have claimed they used a sophisticated table of measurements to achieve the “perfect execution” but really hanging was more of an art than a science. The “hanging” part of being hanged isn’t exactly designed to cause a quick death by strangulation, so if a person survives the fall, they can expect to take as little as forty seconds or as long as twenty (!) minutes before they finally succumb to the lack of oxygen. This time is spent violently thrashing and bucking as you try anything to get enough slack to get some air in. Being only barely taller (though much lighter) than an Oompa Loompa, I’m not sure if the neck-breaking fails that I would weigh enough to pass-out fast enough for my liking.
Extra Consideration: This is one of the few methods where the most common way the execution is botched would work to my advantage. Because when a hanging goes wrong, it usually results in the person being decapitated. This is why hanging fell out of favor, because, ewww, blood and stuff. Plus the severed-head might roll right up to the feet of the witnesses (this really happened in Arizona in 1930). But, if I’m the person losing their head, I really don’t care. It fully assures that I was killed instantly, with no pain. It’s a botch I’d be a-okay with.
#4: Firing Squad
The Procedure: I’m using the method used by the state of Utah as recent as 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner chose it over lethal injection. The condemned is tied to a chair or a post and blind folded. A target is placed over their heart. A wall of sandbags is behind the condemned to catch the bullets. Five marksman are placed 25 feet away from the prisoner and armed with .30-caliber rifles. One of the rifles is loaded with a blank, thus assuring none of the shooters know if they fired one of the fatal shots. Well, unless they forget that part, which happened when Gary Gilmore became the first person executed in the United States after a ten-year moratorium on capital punishment in 1977. Witnesses noted there were five bullet wounds in his body instead of the expected four. Anyway, when given the order, the marksman fire and the prisoner’s heart is immediately destroyed.
If Everything Goes Right: Unconsciousness happens either immediately or within seconds due to complete circulatory collapse and blood-loss, with death following quickly thereafter. For planned judicial executions by firing squad, it’s very rare that a second round of shots is required. When John Albert Taylor was executed by firing squad in Utah in 1996, his body braced up after being shot with his hand clinching into a fist, which “slowly” loosened up until his head slumped back and his arm went limp. Sorry to break this to people who say “he was already dead and it was an involuntary movement”, no, he was still alive. Most forms of pain involve some form of involuntary movement. Still, the whole process of “holy shit, my heart just got blown up” and the ensuing pain was over and done with in just a few seconds. I wouldn’t want to experience it, but it’s preferable to the minutes you can spend choking in the gas chamber or even the seconds being strangled by the garotte.
But in Reality: You’re dealing with five human beings of questionable motives. We’ve all played Red Dead Redemption, right? It’s set in 1911, where gunslingers roamed the west more than buffaloes, right? Well, actually in the real world in 1911, the state of Nevada has so much trouble rounding up five non-psychopathic marksman to execute a fellow named Andriza Mircovich that they had to construct a mechanical firing squad device. This idea was so absurd the warden resigned. And honestly, this is one method I would probably decline out of spite. I’m not a fan of gun nuts (as in ones that fetishize gun-ownership, not responsible gun owners), and the idea of giving five of them the satisfaction of doing what they’ve always fantasized about (IE legally killing someone) doesn’t really appeal to me. If I’m being wrongly executed, I want the executioner to have trouble sleeping that night and not jerk themselves off until their cock is bloodied. Given that one of the most old-westy areas of the old west couldn’t round-up five people willing to execute a confessed murderer makes me think the only people who might step-up to shoot me in 2018 would be people who are a bit fucked in the head. Like having five wannabe John Waynes show up with their tiny dicks throbbing. I’d rather be injected with jet fuel. Speaking of which..
#3: Lethal Injection
Procedure: The condemned is strapped to a gurney. Because the Hippocratic Oath requires doctors to pledge to “do no harm”, trained medical technicians (aka EMTs) insert two IVs into the prisoner, one into each arm. The second line is to have a back-up ready in case the first line fails. The IV lines typically run into a room adjacent to the death chamber, where the executioner has two sets of the drugs to be used already prepared in screw-in syringes along with additional syringes full of saline to flush the line between each application (if the drugs mix in the IV, they can solidify). In some states, the lines run to a lethal injection machine (just like the one from Dead Man Walking). A saline drip is started and a saline flush might be administered to assure the lines work and have access to the prisoner’s bloodstream. When the signal is given, what happens next depends on the injection protocol of the jurisdiction.
- Three Drug Protocol: The prisoner is given 2 to 5 grams of sodium thiopental, a saline flush, 100 milligrams of pancuronium bromide, a saline flush, and 100 milliequivalents of potassium chloride, usually within a span of under 150 seconds.
- Single Drug Protocol: The prisoner is given a 5 gram injection of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. Most states that have adapted the single-drug protocol have a contingency plan in place. If intravenous injection proves impossible due to the lack of vein access, the prisoner can be given a two-drug intramuscular injection of 40 milligrams of midazolam followed by 40 milligrams of hydromorphone. As someone currently in treatment for addiction to hydromorphone (it’s sold under the brand name Dilaudid and was my drug of choice), all I can say is: holy fuck, shooting 40mg of it?
If Everything Goes Right: No matter which protocol is being used, the first drug administered is designed around causing rapid onset of unconsciousness. Sodium thiopental is typically used for the induction of anesthesia for surgery or a medically induced coma. For that, a patient is usually given around 0.35 grams, give or take. For lethal injection, they are given between 2 to 5 grams, so much that this would be considered lethal on its own. This produces unconsciousness within 45 seconds (if 2 grams is used) to 10 seconds (if 5 grams is used). In Texas, a condemned prisoner began to sing Silent Night when the process began. As he reached the line third line of the song (“round yon virgin..”) he fell asleep. So it works really quick, and on its own, would kill you in around ten minutes by stopping you from breathing.
The other two drugs were, more or less, included as a fail-safe. Pancuronium bromide causes paralysis and is used in surgeries to prevent involuntary muscle movement. The dose given in lethal injections is significantly more than for medical use and would leave the prisoner paralyzed for up to eight hours, but it stops the diaphragm and would cause death by suffocation long before that. Finally, potassium chloride is an electrolyte that depolarizes the electric signals of the heart and stops it from beating. If done correctly, a three protocol lethal injection should be over in around 5 to 6 minutes. The single drug protocol takes 10 to 12 minutes before death occurs. The back-up midazolam/hydromorphone combo has been used in Arizona and.. well.. we’ll get to that. But really, this is a pretty good way to go. Quick and painless
But in Reality: Lethal Injection is actually botched nearly as much as electrocutions were. The primary reason is actually not the concept but the, ahem, execution. The person who designed lethal injection was quoted as saying he didn’t think the procedure would be performed by idiots. Often the IVs are inserted the wrong way, or in the wrong locations. Sometimes they’re not in the vein but rather the muscle. Sometimes the IVs get clogged or simply fall out of the prisoner’s arm. Sometimes the technicians have to search for hours looking for a place to insert the needle because the terrified prisoner’s blood vessels have constricted, or maybe they had damaged veins from prior drug use.
And if the first injection doesn’t go right, you’re in for a world of hurt, because the second and third injections feel like you’re pumping burning jet fuel directly into your bloodstream. If you’ve ever gotten an injection of pain-killer (or shot up heroin), you know it causes a burning sensation. Imagine that, multiplied by 100, that doesn’t quickly fade away but rather begins to flow through your entire body. That’s what the second and third lethal injection drugs do. And it gets even worse. If you regain consciousness after the pancuronium bromide (which has NO sedative qualities) is in you, not only will you feel like your blood has been replaced by lava, but you’ll feel yourself suffocating. As if that’s not enough, you’ll be unable to scream or moan or anything, because you’re paralyzed from it. You won’t even be able to open your eyes. To onlookers, it will appear as if everything is going according to the plan. For all we know, this might have happened to a lot of the over-1,200 people we’ve executed by lethal injection since its first usage in 1982. And, while the sedative is considered lethal on its own, it’s also what’s called “ultra-short-acting” and if a person has a sufficient tolerance, as unlikely as it is, it could wear off. It’s designed to wear off.
As for the single-drug method, it hasn’t exactly worked either. Especially the use of midazolam, which has failed, failed, FAILED again and again. Never mind the circumstances of the cases, this is not what proponents of lethal injection are promising us. As for the midazolam/hydromorphone two-drug backup, this was tried on Joseph Wood in Arizona in 2014 and the prison officials ended up having to give him FIFTEEN “lethal” doses over the course of two hours before he finally died. He spent most of that time “gasping, snorting, and gulping like a fish.”
This is NOT justice and it makes us all look like we’re stupid. Lethal Injection is designed to give off the appearance of a peaceful death via a medical procedure. But it’s not fool-proof and the amount of ways it can go wrong is kind of shocking. Even though I’m a relatively tiny person, I’m also a recovering drug abuser that spent over a decade building up a tolerance. My doctor assures me I would die from the initial injection of the sedative, but he couldn’t say with 100% confidence that it would be the serene death people would expect. He did say it was 99.5% likely, which is why I’d take Lethal Injection over all but two methods. But if I’m in the 0.5% fringes, my bad day is going to be a lot worse.
#2: Shooting (aka Single Shot to the Back of the Head)
Procedure: This was the most common method used in China, but has since been replaced by lethal injection. The condemned is led somewhere away from public view, where their arms are bound and they are made to kneel down. The executioner fires a single shot using a pistol (or even a high-caliber rifle.. can I request that one?) at a downward angle into the back of the prisoner’s head or neck from less than two feet away. And then afterwards they bill the family of the deceased for the bullet.
If Everything Goes Right: I’m dead before my body hits the ground. My brain is instantly destroyed. No brain, no consciousness. No consciousness, no me. It’ll happen so fast my ears won’t even have time to process the sound of the shot. This is really the closest thing the death penalty has to flipping a human on-off switch, which even my #1 choice doesn’t offer for reasons I’ll get into.
But in Reality: No, actually, this is a really good way to be judicially killed. The only way you could screw this up is if you want to. People do survive head-shots and even make a full recovery from them. Of course, those people aren’t being deliberately put to death. Presumably if the executioner fires, you slump over, but they still see you breathing, they’re going to fire again. Whether you’re conscious or in pain after the first shot depends on how the first bullet acted. If it blew out your cerebral cortex, you’re dead and the breathing is just the meat you left behind continuing to do its thing because your brainstem is intact. The gun matters. If it’s a low-caliber, it might not cause a lot of damage, but that’s still unlikely given the nearly point-blank distance between the condemned and the shooter. Pain and alertness is tied to your brain, and getting those brains blown out of your head is basically the fastest way to die with fully lost consciousness. I put it #2 because the human factor is still there. That human being me. What if I sneeze or something right before the shot is fired and the person shooting gets me in the shoulder instead? That shit would hurt. And that’s the only reason why it’s #2.
Extra Consideration: In China, if someone botches the single-shot method, they can be court-martialed and possibly face execution themselves. So as I’m being led to my death, I can be as mouthy and snotty as I want and face pretty much no consequence for it. That’s why I’m learning Mandarin. I have tons of “your mother” jokes that I want to spout off before I bite the bullet.
Procedure: The condemned is bound by the hands and feet and placed on a board which is then pulled up to a stock that locks their head and neck into position. A button or lever is activated which releases an angled blade that falls about 8 feet at a high velocity, severing the neck from the body in a fraction of a second.
If Everything Goes Right: The guillotine is the most efficient, painless, no-questions-asked fool-proof method of execution humanity has devised. If the United States wasn’t so squeamish or anti-France, lethal injection would never have been given consideration, because the perfect killing method had already been in use since 1792. The blade works faster than the human body can process any physical sensations. Before pain signals would start to be sent out, you’d already have lost your central nervous system. And even multiple variables such as the size and thickness of the person’s neck or the sharpness of the blade are made irrelevant because the 10lb angled blade being dropped from a height of eight feet at a speed of 20ft per second is going to lop your head off with almost no resistance. The blade itself would need to be so dull that it literally couldn’t cut butter at room temperature in order to fail. So the margin for allowable error is extremely high.
It really shows how full of shit the “humane death” argument for Lethal Injection is. We consider it barbaric or inhumane to use a device that is instant and painless because it takes a person’s head off (a person who we want to kill anyway) and there’s lots of gore involved (as if living people aren’t walking sacks of blood). Besides, would this be a good time to point out that the “capital” part in “capital punishment” literally refers to the person’s head? Shooting a person isn’t taking their head. Injecting them with poison isn’t. Nothing short of decapitation suits the name. We don’t practice capital punishment in America. We practice pussified forced-euthanasia.
But in Reality: No, actually that’s it. Guillotine is the way to go. Especially me. My neck is roughly the size of an ethernet cord. You could probably use a guillotine-shaped cigar cutter on me and it’d work just as well. The one and only quirk that has to be considered is the fact that the guillotine works so fast and so efficiently that your head remains alive for around seven seconds afterwards. That’s not an urban legend. It has to be true. You see, our brains need X amount of time (depending on the person) to fully metabolize the accumulated resources (mostly oxygen) that flow through it. So when the blade drops, yes, you are dead. But not dead-dead, at least for a few seconds. You won’t feel anything because you won’t have a spine and thus won’t have a central nervous system, but still, you’ll be fully aware that you’ve been decapitated. Your eyes will begin to spasm immediately, but if your eyelids remain open and your head falls into the basket sunny-side up, you’ll be able to see the blade that just killed you and maybe even blood draining from your body for about seven seconds, depending on your brain’s metabolism. That doesn’t sound like a long time, until you actually count out seven seconds. Try it yourself. It’s longer than you think. Here you go.
So yea, it’s a lot longer than it sounds like on paper. That’s a significant amount of time to process what just happened and to anticipate the fade to black that’s going to take place. And that’s just at the bare-minimum amount of time. There’s a famous story about a doctor experimenting with a head in 1905, which did seem to respond to having its name called out for a longer duration than seven seconds. The truth is, we don’t know 100% for sure, and because the guillotine does no damage to the brain and works so fast that endorphins that are released by multiple different organs during the process of dying never circulate through it, your head might spend a longer-than-expected intermission between the act of being killed and the act of dying. It might be traumatic, or it might be annoying. But it’s unquestionably painless and fool-proof. That’s why it’s the best way to be killed by the state.
Or we can just skip the killing part and save ourselves some tax dollars. But where’s the fun in that?
No, not the movie. The extraterrestrial life that in all likelihood we’ll only be able to appreciate under a microscope. Microscopic alien life is something we could find in my lifetime. We’re making plans to visit Europa, which likely has a liquid water ocean and all the basic building blocks of life. But, most people aren’t excited by space bacteria. They want the red meat aliens. The kinds that ride in bitch’in spaceships, fight Lex Luthor, and have a bizarre fascination with our assholes (both literal and figurative). I’ve never been much of a UFO person. It doesn’t help that most people with “experiences” are rednecks of questionable credibility who have near-fetishized fascination with butts and just happened to encounter aliens who share said fetish. And yea, Barry Goldwater and Jimmy Carter both had such experiences because they saw UFOs. UFO fanboys probably shouldn’t point to them though, unless losing a combined two elections by a total of 874 electoral gives you extra credibility. That’s probably not the case though. George McGovern never saw a UFO and he lost by 503. And he was from South Dakota. That’s one of those states aliens just love to go fanny-probing. If any high-profile failure would have gotten the galactic enema, it would have been McGoo.
I don’t deny the existence of life on other planets, even intelligent life. As we gain knowledge of the universe, it’s becoming pretty clear that Earth-like planets aren’t nearly as rare as we thought. There’s over forty-billion Earth-like planets in habitual zones in the Milky Way alone. That’s a shit-load. Now consider that at least one of them, Earth, sprung up life smart enough to count how many stars there are in our own galaxy. I don’t find it very likely that Earth somehow beat 1 in 40,000,000,000 odds. But, let’s say it did. Even going by that standard, considering that there’s over one-hundred billion galaxies in just the observable universe of various sizes, I would say intelligent life is probably very likely.
Let’s be extremely, extremely conservative and still blow our minds. Let’s say that at the most, a galaxy can only have one planet with intelligent life. Just one for all the billions of stars each contains. And, let’s say that only 0.01% of all galaxies ever get that one planet that has intelligent life. That would mean, in the observable universe, there’s over 10,000,000 planets that have intelligent life. Wow!
Life has to exist out there. But life will never visit us. Intelligent life at least. If you subscribe to the panspermia theory, alien life has already visited us, and you’re its great ancestor. But little grey men? No. It’s not impossible. It’s just highly unlikely. The distances are too great and the time windows for meaningful contact are too small. Think about life on the Earth itself. The dinosaurs never gazed up at the stars and said “Hmmmm, I wonder………” And they were the most dominant complex species our planet has had. We’re the first species to look at the universe and realize, oh my God, we’re not alone. But we’ve only had enough knowledge and education to realize that within the last couple hundred years at best. That’s a teeny-tiny window.
Fringe crackpots will tell you that the pyramids or the Nazca Lines or Stonehenge are clear proof of aliens, because, um, reasons. The logic of it always cracked me up. “Hey, we’ve just broken the laws of physics and traveled improbable distances to visit your planet. Here, let us show you how to carve stone and arrange it in highly artistic ways.” Fucking thanks, Aliens. Revealing the nature of the universe to us so that we wouldn’t waste time believing in God and putting roadblocks up to appease said God would have been helpful and served to evolve us at a faster pace, but no, it’s always abstract art and anal probes with you.
But real people doing real thinking have really thought about this. And they’ve come to a few conclusions. First off, if there’s alien life smart enough to travel between stars or even galaxies, that by itself must prove how common life is in the universe. With that being the case, they probably wouldn’t take too much of a shine to us on Earth. We wouldn’t be exceptional. They would be used to seeing life EVERYWHERE! If we were lucky, the discovery of Earth would get a two-minute blip from their version of Hank Green on their version of Sci-Show Space. Especially since alien life probably won’t look as radically different as once believed. Look at out how stuff evolved here on Earth, where many features common among all animals came into being separately: bilateral symmetry, appendages, eyes, wings, mouths, etc. Evolution must instinctively gravitate towards these advantages. For a species that has the ability to traverse the entire universe, really, wouldn’t they have seen and categorized a lot of things by time they reach us?
And, if they were interested in us, why would they even need to directly enter the Earth to observe us? It’s fairly narrow-minded to think that any creature that has the ability to journey across the stars would actually need to directly poke and prod us to learn about our biology. Such stories of this occurring are likely because of a phenomena known as sleep paralysis, and those poor people who have experienced them are deserving of pity. We should also try to sit down with them and work some logic into them. Like how we can predict where zebras will migrate to using satellite imagery, and we’re not quite awesome enough to even make it to the next planet over with our own physical bodies. If we can do that, surely beings with the technology to go star-hopping can simply scan us from space and learn all about our biology.
Of course, none of that is all too likely to begin with. The distances are just too great. Now granted, we’re early in the search for exoplanets like Earth, but the best candidate we’ve found yet is called Keplar 438b. And by best candidate, I mean it’s the closest to the size of the Earth and a close approximation to our Earth’s distance from its sun. Which is a red dwarf. We don’t even know if those can sustain life (some have doubts). But if it could, and if our motivation once we reach the stars outside of our solar system is simply to look for other life, we could send a probe. If that probe was traveling 20% of the speed of light, it would take 2,350 Earth-years to reach Kepler 438b. That’s because it’s 470 light-years from Earth. Any signals that probe would send back would take an additional 470 years to reach us, meaning that if we could launch a probe at the best candidate we’ve seen right now (we can’t) reaching speeds 20% of the speed of light (some think even that will never be within our reach), we wouldn’t get the answers we were searching for until the year 4,835.
Think of how many civilizations rise and fall over the span of 2,850 years. Think of how much people change in that span. Technology. Ideology. Would the people of 4,835 even retain the knowledge that a probe we launched in 2015 is beaming back information on the best candidate we knew of for life on other planets? Or, if they knew, would they even care anymore?
Intelligent life in other systems would likely face those same challenges too. The window for advanced civilization is smaller than anyone realizes just because of how fast things change. Regimes, empires, nations, and global populations. Life changes too fast for a very old, very uninterested universe to take notice. We’ll never meet extraterrestrial neighbors. While many will probably be disappointed by that, I actually find it incredibly comforting to know that, somewhere out there in the Cosmos, a being is looking up to the heavens and wondering about us too. What we’re like, where we came from and where we’re going. It has to be true. The numbers are just too great for it not to be. How can anyone not take comfort in that? Even more comforting is that we all come from the same ingredients. That we share this eternal bond that knows no distance is beautiful. And one day, trillions of years from now, the atoms in our bodies will return to the heavens, to dance with atoms that once belonged to star gazers from other worlds. In this sense, there is no such thing as alien life. We’re simply all just different parts of the universe, waiting to reunite some day.