Death sentence and hanging

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to consider if execution by hanging a convict can be replaced by a method to let the convict die “in peace and not pain.” In the apex court’s view, the fundamental right to life and dignity enshrined in Art 21 of the Constitution also means the “right to die with dignity”. What is noteworthy is that the apex court has not questioned the right of the State to put a convict to death, only the method of execution. First,  the present method of execution by hanging is not ‘painful’ because as soon as the wooden platform is removed from under the feet of the convict, he has a fall of 40 feet below in the well (the length of the rope is fixed accordingly) and the impact of the fall breaks his neck and death is instantaneous. Hanging does not mean death by gagging.
Secondly, looked at from the point of view of ‘pain’ suffered by the convict, is it any the less painful to wait indefinitely for months or years in the condemned cell after the death sentence has been awarded? Waiting for death day after day without knowing when death will come puts the convict to intense mental agony. The agony is shared by his near and dear ones too. In some countries execution is done either by injecting poison in the blood stream or giving very high voltage electric shock to the convict who is made to sit on the “chair”. As far as the extinction of the life of a human is concerned, the form of putting him to death makes no difference to “pain”, whether physical or mental.
“Painless killing” is a contradiction in terms. The method of execution can certainly be changed from hanging to some other form but to believe that terminating the life of a person can be “painless” is to indulge in self-delusion. Death sentence these days is awarded only in the “rarest of the rare” cases. If a person has been found to be a danger to society or is guilty of committing such a crime that he has to be deprived of his life, it makes little difference how he is put to death. A convict being led to sit on the “chair”, knowing that he is going to be electrocuted, or one who finds a doctor ready with his syringe to pump poison into his blood stream does not suffer any less pain than a convict being led to the gallows. The real issue is whether or not to take a human life, not its method.

Monday, 9 October, 2017