Filming Death

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July 22, 2011 by J. Truett Glen

I was riding in the car yesterday listening to the news when I first heard about the video recording of the execution of Andrew DeYoung. I was, of course, immediately repulsed by the notion. Capital punishment is another conversation in and of itself, but the idea of recording such an event seems ethically problematic to me. I waited until today to look into the matter and when I found out the reason behind the video recording of the execution I felt less justified in the immediate indignation I had yesterday, but the reasoning behind the event raised even more questions than I was prepared to answer. I have listed some of the ethical issues that this circumstance has raised:

1. Fear of propagating the use of execution for death: This was the initial thought that went through my head when I first heard the situation on the radio but once I looked into the situation it became a secondary concern. The GA state officials in the attorney general’s office were also concerned with the video getting leaked and this was one reason they were trying to stop the video recording of the event. We celebrate (or exploit) every other life experience on YouTube and it would only seem logical that socially justified killings will someday make the acceptable content list of such sites if the social networking and entertainment/news machines continue to win the day in pressing the envelope for what is acceptable for public viewing. Again, this a whole conversation in and of itself and I will probably touch on it at some point in a separate post.

2. Should the state have the right to record such events to use as evidence in whatever context may come up that my be benefited by such evidence? I think we have all wished at some point that we had a video recording of an event where we didn’t feel the truth was accurately represented by the verbal testimony of an eye-witness (whether it concern who broke the lamp in the living room or who really started a fight). However, the human desire for accurate and honest testimony does not necessarily validate the use of video recording as evidence in a situation and nor can a video recording always accurately represent the whole truth of the matter. The causality of something can’t always be caught on film and that is why we have lawyers and jurors. But, this is not a major factor in the situation in GA so we move on.

3. The reason behind the video recording in this execution was because another death row inmate asked for it. Not the one being executed. Not the family of the one being executed. But another inmate that was concerned about pain occurring in the execution process due to the possible insufficient amount of sedatives administered prior to the lethal injection. This raises a couple of issues that need to be addressed. First off, for the most part, American society has agreed that we should not torture those who are sentenced to death during the execution process. This is one of the reasons for lethal injection in the first place. The electric chair and hangings are seen as barbaric and inhumane so they moved on to something more gentile and less visually horrific. The idea that an execution should not be painful is also a separate question that needs to be addressed on its own post. I have, for the majority of my adult life, been opposed to capital punishment but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the social value it offers in a fallen world. There is certainly biblical evidence to suggest that capital punishment is acceptable and every form of it pictured in the Bible, other than decapitation, was a painful affair. The prescribed method of execution in the Pentateuch was stoning, which I think we can all agree was probably not a pleasant or fast way to die unless someone was blessed enough to get a good strike to the head that knocked them out through the remainder of the process (Not a pleasant thought either way).

The other question attached to this issue is whether the other inmate should even have the right to request a video be made of another man’s execution. Even though I see a family member requesting this as ethically problematic, I certainly understand the argument behind considering it. However, we are talking about another inmate that desires to use the video for the purpose of research by his lawyers to insure that his upcoming execution is going to be a painless one. Should men have the right to sit around and watch the death of a man to make sure that their client gets a painless death? Can this not be achieved by a panel of doctors who could be asked to observe the execution in order to ascertain the visual evidence necessary to assure (like it could ever truly be assured) that no pain would be inflicted on the inmate about to be executed?

Despite my pacifistic and humanitarian notions I find it hard to conclude that the video taping of Andrew DeYoung should have ever been allowed. But I’m open to discourse on the matter and would like to hear your opinions. So, what do you think?

See the link for the full story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/21/georgia-execution-video-recording-appeal

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