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McAuliffe’s Secrecy Gambit On The Death Penalty Strikes Against Transparency

electric_chairSo Governor Terry McAuliffe has set up a rather false choice for members of the Virginia General Assembly: mandate secrecy as to who provides the cocktail of drugs issued during an execution, or get rid of the death penalty in Virginia.  From the Washington Post [1]:

McAuliffe, a Catholic who is personally opposed to capital punishment, said he was trying to find a way to avoid the use of the electric chair, which he called a “reprehensible” method of execution.

“We take human beings, we strap them into a chair, and then we flood their bodies with 1,800 volts of electricity, subjecting them to unspeakable pain until they die,” McAuliffe told reporters. “Virginia citizens do not want their commonwealth to revert back to a past when excessively inhumane punishments were committed in their name.”

. . .

“All I’m doing today is providing a humane way to carry out capital punishment here in Virginia so we have options,” he said. “If they do not take it up, I want to be clear, they will be ending capital punishment here in Virginia.”

Would McAuliffe care to describe the humane method of killing another human being?  Perhaps by injecting someone’s body with barbiturates, then injecting them with another cocktail of drugs to paralyze the body, then another and final drug that imposes cardiac arrest?

…but I digress.

The prospect of “secrecy” in this instance isn’t the simple donning of a mask over the head of the executioner.  To the contrary, it’s the concealment of blame — a state protection when botched executions occur (and sadly, they do indeed occur [2]).

The problem here is that it’s not a question as to whether or not pharmaceutical firms want to deliver lethal injections — Florida, Georgia, and Texas all do so, with California and four other states offering medically assisted suicide [3].  The question here is whether or not McAuliffe’s amendment creates more problems than it solves.

This is where the principle of transparency is so absolutely critical, and more so where the life of a human being is being held in the balance.

More to the point, it’s not as if the Virginia Department of Corrections has had difficulty obtaining the drugs required for lethal injections.  The reason why there’s a concern (at least on the surface) is that pharmaceutical firms are concerned that the process for obtaining the drugs for lethal injection not only run counter to the FDA-approved uses for the products themselves, they might very well be violating the Controlled Substances Act in doing so.

As a Catholic, I have an inimical opposition to the death penalty in the modern era.  It is not necessary in an era of modern incarcerations, our certainty in all cases is far from absolute in order to impose the maximum penalty of law, and in all but the most extreme instances the maximum penalty of death simply does not live up to the standard of justice most Americans have come to expect from our jurisprudence system.

One’s personal opinions and faith aside, McAuliffe’s concerns at this point aren’t with the manufacture of lethal drugs, but rather with the manufacturing of controversy where none need be.

Moreover, the strike against transparency is what ought to concern every Virginian of goodwill, regardless as to where you stand on the death penalty, and especially when it concerns the maximum penalty of the law.

McAuliffe ought to know better.