Stephen Kent

Wake up, America! We are losing ground. A country that can replace and repair organs, develop contact lenses to measure diabetes, and surgically disguise the effects of aging can surely find an acceptable way to kill.

The state of Ohio is the latest example of the inability to kill properly.

Dennis McGuire, convicted of a 1989 rape and murder, was executed in January by means of a new, untested lethal injection. It took McGuire 26 minutes to die in what his attorney called “a failed, agonizing experiment.”


Ohio has had difficulties in getting executions right. In 2009, executioners spent two hours trying to find a vein to kill a convict before giving up and returning him to his cell.

For a while, executions in the United States were proceeding to almost everyone’s satisfaction by using two chemicals: sodium thiopental and pentobarbital.

Then in early 2011, the only manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making it, perhaps thinking that pharmaceuticals were more for saving life than taking it. Then the wimpy European Union barred German and Danish drug-makers from selling sodium thiopental to prisons in the United States.

We must stand with our allies, other countries using capital punishment — such paragons of human rights as China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen — as a coalition of the willing, to protect our practice of capital punishment from the naysayers.

McGuire’s attorneys contended that using the sedative never tested before would cause undue agony and terror, violating the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Nonsense, countered an Ohio assistant attorney general, saying “You’re not entitled to a pain-free execution.”

Substantiating that claim, McGuire did not go gentle into the night. He gasped, heaved and made guttural sounds for several minutes prior to expiring, according to reports.

Now, as if enough attorneys are not employed in the defense and prosecution in death penalty cases, McGuire’s family plans to sue the state of Ohio.

Yes, there have been some regrettable errors in carrying out sentences — unintentional decapitation at the end of a rope, bursting into flames while in the electric chair — but they’re a small price to pay for our cherished right of the state to kill people.

As a country we are proud of our capital punishment. That’s why it is conducted in virtual privacy, behind prison walls.

The United States has the highest per capita gun ownership of any country in the world, thus we need this severe penalty to control the effects of those using them for purposes other than for being members of a well-armed militia.

If the McGuire family suit prevails, it might be another step on the way to abolishing the death penalty.

While the United States fiddles around with ways to kill to satisfy softhearted liberals, other nations are innovating improved methods. China has vans that pick up the condemned, execute by lethal injection while en route, and deliver the corpse to a hospital so vital organs remain fresh for transplantation.

There is more and more resistance to state killing. We must fight through this, otherwise the next thing you know, we won’t have it.

Preservation of the death penalty is certainly not helped by such namby-pamby organizations as the Catholic Church, whose teaching says the need for the death penalty is “rare if practically nonexistent.”

If its members really took this to heart and acted on it, there would be no more death penalty in the United States. And then there would be no need to treat barbarity as folly.

Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: