Is there justification for a society to impose death as a judgment, under specific circumstances? That is the question that must first be answered before arguing for or against lethal injection. Are there crimes that a person can commit against their fellow human beings that are so heinous, so criminal, so wrong in fact, that a society can kill the perpetrator?
That question has been debated since the earliest criminal justice systems, and every time the question is asked the answer changes. The question is so volatile that in 1972 the United States government called for a complete moratorium on the death penalty for the entire country. It has since been reinstated in some states, in different forms. Lethal injection is one of the ways now used.
Lethal injection is designed to be a “humane” form of death. In contrast to a firing squad, hanging, beheading, electrocution, or other forms used historically in the United States and other countries, it truly is “humane.” The person being killed suffers very little, and if used correctly, simply goes to sleep and dies. The electric chair, in contrast, has some noteworthy failures, where a person actually had to be electrocuted twice before they died.
So, accepting that lethal injection is a relatively painless way to kill someone we have to return to the question of is it just to use? And again, that can only be answered by answering the question, are there crimes that merit the death penalty.
I think in any society, the answer to this question must be: yes. There are crimes and there are criminals that are so despicable that society’s only recourse is to eliminate the source. In other words, the only remedy is to kill the person who committed that crime. Serial killers are the example that perhaps best fits. Persons who, although a part of a society, murder members of that society. The only way to protect society from someone like that is to remove them from society.
There are, of course, several ways to accomplish this removal. The death penalty is the only one that has any finality, any security for the society itself. The other options that exist do not completely protect society.
The serial killer could be removed from society and kept in jail for life. This does not prevent him from killing again. Five murders were committed in New York State prisons between 1996 and 1999. Other states have similar statistics. Unfortunately the murderer in prison still has to be around people at some point, other inmates, prison guards, doctors, lawyers, and so on. Any time they are around another person is an opportunity to commit another murder. Society is not completely protected in this way. Partially protected, certainly. But not completely. And this doesn’t even factor in the albeit rare prison escape.
Society also has the option to lobotomize or otherwise incapacitate the murderer. If we say lethal injection is not just and is inhumane, what could we say about this action? Harming the murderer to the point of incapacitation is a sentence of judgment certainly more inhumane that a lethal injection. Not to mention the burden this person would be on the society they harmed, for the rest of their life.
So yes, there are crimes that society has a right to punish by death. Of the options to carry out this sentence, lethal injection is the most “humane.” It is a justifiable action in an unjust world.