Yesterday’s Joke Becoming Today’s Reality – Death Row and Assisted Suicide

Back on April 1, 1998 I sent out an obviously bogus press release from an email address I reserved for just such purposes.  It was an attempt at some (I thought) outrageous satire, taking pro-assisted suicide arguments based on “quality of life” to one of their many logical conclusions.  What would happen, I wondered, when civil libertarians opposed to the death penalty found that position in conflict with their support of assisted suicide.  I didn’t doubt for a minute which would win out.

Here’s my fiction from 13 years ago:

Los Angeles – April 1, 1998
Affiliated Press

    At a press conference today, the American Civil Liberties Union Announced
it would be supporting the request of a death row prisoner to obtain assisted
suicide.  Sid Nasty, who has been on death row for 5 years awaiting the outcome
of appeals in his death sentence in the slaying of 5 girl scouts, has applied
for assistance in committing suicide.
   Nasty, in an appeal filed yesterday, contends that his present quality of
life is unacceptable and seeks to voluntarily end his “suffering” and
“meaningless existence”.  Nasty says that even if his death sentence is
commuted, the best he can hope for is a life sentence with no hope for parole.
   Nasty, in a taped presentation, explained: “Hell, I figure the ACLU has
helped cripples in nursing homes to escape being locked up with no hope of
parole.  Why should they get the right to die and I don’t?  The food may be a
little better in here than in a nursing home, but aside from that, it’s pretty
much the same”.
   This action of the ACLU stands in stark contrast to its actions in the case
of Gary Gilmore, who asked that all appeals on his behalf be withdrawn so he
could be executed by a firing squad.  The ACLU argued that Gilmore was
depressed by the circumstances of his incarceration and could not be making an
informed choice in the matter.  ACLU spokesperson Sol Phistry explained that
the ACLU was firm in opposing the death penalty then and now.
   “Nasty’s appeals for a commutation of sentence will stay in place.  Gillmore
was asking for the state to execute him.  Nasty is asking the state to allow
him to release himself from an untenable existence.  He will be administering
the lethal injection to himself, not some flunkie hired by the prison.  This is
about choice.
   “Jack Kevorkian, a pioneer in the right to die, said it best; to paraphrase
him: “The voluntary self-elimination of murderers, rapists and other felons,
taken collectively can only serve to enhance the public health and welfare.”
(emphasis added.)

Who says I don’t have a whimsical side?

One one of the email lists this got posted two, an ACLU board member (don’t remember if it was a state or the national board) commented that the author had an “overactive imagination.”

Well, here’s today’s news – from the state of Oregon.  In fact, it’s from Portland Tribune reporter Peter Korn – the same reporter and same paper that exposed the Oregon Board of Nursing as a sham – that consistently protected the jobs and licenses of nurses over the health and welfare of patients.

This latest story is titled Three Needles.  Six Minutes.  The End.


T. Allen Bethel has met his exception. A gentle and thoughtful man, Bethel is senior pastor of Maranatha Church in Northeast Portland. He and other Portland-area clergy are well aware that on Aug. 16 the state Department of Corrections is scheduled to put convicted killer Gary Haugen to death in the first Oregon state execution in 14 years.
Most members of the local faith community who take up the highly charged issue these days speak out against the death penalty, though there are certainly clergy on both sides.
Proponents and opponents know that the issue is framed differently here because Oregon is also home to physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.
Physician-assisted suicide essentially allows individuals to say they would rather die than live in circumstances they cannot bear. Haugen went to Marion County Circuit Court to ask that he be put to death rather than live out his life in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
When he considers those two ideas, Bethel, a staunch opponent of capital punishment, says maybe Haugen should get his wish.
“My belief is, I would fight for his life,” Bethel says. “But each of us has the right to say what I want or do not want done with my body.”
Oregon’s lethal injection execution system uses three sterilized needles and takes about six minutes for the combination of drugs to kill the prisoner. The state has used the lethal injection method since Oregon’s capital punishment was reinstated in 1984. Prior to that, Oregon executed prisoners for many years in a gas chamber.

There’s more from another member of the clergy that goes farther:

…the Rev. Lynne Smouse Lopéz, pastor at Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Alameda, says she’s pretty sure most of her congregation are against it. As for her personal view, Lopéz says, “I’ve always been against the death penalty and always will be, I’m sure.”

Lopéz believes that everyone is redeemable and that putting someone to death denies that possibility.
“What I have to believe is that everybody has good in them,” Lopéz says. “We are created in the image of God. …We can be broken, but I also believe we can be healed and be made whole. Some people maybe have to be kept away from society to protect themselves and others, but I just cannot give up on them as human beings.”
As for Haugen asking for his own execution, Lopéz admits to equivocation.
“I’d rather we then say, ‘It’s OK if he wants physician-assisted suicide, but not put to death in an execution.’ ” (emphasis added.)

OK – so this isn’t about the ACLU, but about members of the clergy in Oregon.  To be fair, there is a spread of opinion in that community reflected in the article.  But in the two I’ve highlighted – especially in the case of  Rev. Lopéz – the logic in terms of being OK with the wish to die based on a “quality of life” argument is virtually identical to my April Fools press release from 1998.

Come to think of it, I haven’t heard of the ACLU filing in opposition to a prisoner who wanted appeals to their execution stopped.

It makes sense – we have a group of people that are shunned, devalued, and increasing numbers of taxpayers see as an unnecessary drain on public resources.  Only this time, we’re talking about death row prisoners instead of old, ill and disabled people.  I can see people becoming more comfortable with this idea, just as seems to be the case with applauding and encouraging the suicides of old, ill and disabled people.

I’d better be careful when I write phony “outrageous” press releases in the future.  Or at least redefine what “outrageous” means to me.  –Stephen Drake

One thought on “Yesterday’s Joke Becoming Today’s Reality – Death Row and Assisted Suicide

  1. It’s bad enough such atrocities have even been suggested under the guise of science fiction. I find “usefulness” in doing public service work, fundraising for area CPC’s to help in saving the babies and ‘phone banking to get good life respecting people elected to public office. Besides that, having been made spiritually in the image of God gives me all the value I need. This is America – let those suffering from gross amounts of ableism move to China, Russia or Cuba where their atrocious ideologies may be more welcome…hope Singer heard this, too!

Comments are closed.