Monday, 28 May 2007

Are the electrodes comfortable, sir?

For those who haven't noticed, an Australian, George Forbes, has been sentenced to death in the Sudan, convicted of killing a Ukrainian engineer. I am going to wave aside the pathological (is that the right word for evidence that comes from pathology?) evidence that said engineer committed suicide. Perversions of justice are a dime a dozen in this country, depending upon whom you speak to, so perversions of justice in a traditionally war-torn country like Sudan should come as no real surprise.

No. What baffles me is this. Yes, that's right, after much lobbying he's been moved to a UN hospital due to deteriorating health. This is on par to the condemned man being allowed a final hearty meal of his choice, or an execution not being carried out because the victim, sorry, convict, is not healthy enough. Death penalty. Death. Cause of. Causes, in fact. Directly. Ill-health prevents execution of sentence. Huh?

I'm sure I've heard the arguments for this before, but for the life of me I can't remember what they are. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with not causing undue suffering, but let's ignore the psychological suffering of fore-knowledge. Unless that's part of the punishment.

But I go around in circles.

In this actual case the issue is complicated by a pending appeal, so okay, there is an obligation (you would hope) of duty of care to the prisoner until that is resolved.

My actual opinions on the death penalty are mixed, and there are grey areas where I will happily refuse to be pinned down just now, but the double standard which says "We will take care of a prisoner's health (but not, heaven forbid, their psychiatric heath), right upon until the point we kill them" still makes me scratch my head in bafflement.

Here's a suggestion: Have the case. Have the allowed periods of appeals. Have a re-trial if you have to, just to make sure. All the time, take good care of them because they are, after all, your guests. Then kill the poor bastard (or bastardess). Don't put them on death row for seven years while they write five books, embrace Jesus (why? In the hope they can emulate history's most famous Jew and come back?) and get used as case studies in legal classes at the nearest Uni.

If you would like a really good argument on why the death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent in USA but it appears to in Saudi Arabia, read Savage Spawn by Jonathan Kellerman. In fact, read it anyway.

Enlighten me: Are these countries in favour of euthanasia and abortion as ways to avoid unnecessary suffering as well? Hello, America?

Bit of a Post-Script: It suddenly occurs to me that there was an episode of House in which the eponymous doctor was called to death row to see to a prisoner who was about to be executed. He got the prisoner transferred to the hospital, cured him, and sent him back to death row. Much philosophical arguing about the whole point. I believe House's point was: He's not the state, he's a doctor, he has a duty to the patient.

Which is admirable, and fair enough. But the state needs to work out what it's attitude is, and tidy the whole process up a little.

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