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Methods Of Execution Essay, Research Paper

One man’s taking of another’s life is generally seen as an unforgivable act which is

punishable with death. When this is done as punishment however, it is seen as an

honorary deed by removing this criminal from the world and making it a much safer

place to live. With executions in mind, it is incredible what ingenious methods can be

thought of by the human brain and the fact that the idea is centered around the murdering

of one man does not even change how prodigious these innovations are seen to be. Many

different techniques and procedures for execution are used throughout the world

revealing much about a country’s culture and their concern for their citizens.

By far one of the most well known and publicly glamorized of all methods of

execution is electrocution. Present in nine American states, it was first used in New York

in 1890. When a condemned man is scheduled to be executed, he is led into the death

chamber and strapped to the point of immobility into a reinforced chair with belts

crossing his chest, groin, legs, and arms. Two copper electrodes, dipped in brine or

treated with Eletro-Creme to increase conductivity, are attached to him, one to his leg

and the other to his head. The first jolt, between five-hundred and two-thousand volts

depending on the size of the prisoner, is given for 30 seconds. Smoke will begin to come

out of the prisoner’s leg and head and these areas may catch fire if the victim has been

sweating profusely. A doctor will examine him and if he still shows life signs, more jolts

of two-thousand volts are administered to finish the job (Matthews). A main reason for

electrocution’s original use was the thought that death was immediate. Unfortunately this

is not the case. Doctors today believe that the victim feels “himself begin burned to death

and suffocating since the shock cause respiratory paralysis as well as cardiac arrest.

Because the energy of the shock paralyzes the muscles, he cannot cry out, and therefore

is presumed dead (”This is your death…”). How ironic that one reason electrocution was

kept in use was that, although expensive, it was immensely serene as far as the prisoner is


Still used extensively throughout the world today and in its sole representing U.S.

state, Utah, the firing squad has a much greater claim to being humane as bullets directly

into the heart generally cause instantaneous death. Utah uses an extremely exact and

well-practiced method which is immensely centered around concern for the victim by

taking almost every precaution possible to ensure a quick and easy death. The victim is

bound to a chair with leather straps that cross his waist and head. Next a doctor locates

the exact position of his heart with a stethescope and pins a circular white target over it.

Twenty feet away, on the other side of a canvas wall, are five men with .30-caliber rifles.

Each man aims through a gun portal located in the center of the canvas and fire

simultaneously. A prisoner dies as a result of blood loss caused by rupture of the heart or

a large blood vessel, or tearing of the lungs. He loses consciousness when shock causes a

fall in the supply of blood to the brain. Though a shot to the head causes instant death

that method is not used due to high percentage of failures (Kaplan and Danil). Some

countries deliberately alter these steps in order to cause a more gruesome death. In

Taiwan, the condemned is shot either in the back or chest four times in strategically

painful places. After nearly and hour of misery the officials take the fifth and final shot

into the heart (Hoff and Petrucelli). It is astounding how one country will do all humanly

possible to try to make death a quick and easy procedure while another tries to do all they

can to make it as painful and agonizing as possible.

The gas chamber, most famous for its abundant use during World War II, is the

method used in Nevada and California and is also used in the Philippines. The prisoner is

led into a room and fastened to a metal chair with perforated seats. Straps are secured

across his upper and lower legs, arms, groin, and chest. A long stethoscope is also affixed

to his chest so that a doctor outside of the room can pronounce death. Underneath the

chair is a bowl filled with a sulfuric acid and distilled water solution, with a pound of

sodium cyanide pellets suspended in a gauze bag just above. After the door is closed and

sealed, the executioner pulls a lever that triggers the release of the cyanide into the liquid.

This cause the releasing of hydrogen cyanide gas which raises through the holes in the

seat of the chair. According to doctors, the victim “will feel unable to breathe, but will

not immediately lose consciousness,” a statement which contradicts the previous belief

that the victim is becomes unconscious instantly, which eliminates all pain and suffering.

What actually happens is that pain like that of a heart attack begins immediately and is

felt in the arms, shoulders, back and chest. The initial physical result is spasms, as in an

epileptic seizure, which will not stop for ten to twelve minutes, but the straps restrain

most involuntary body movements (”This is your death…). How strange that something

condemned by the U.S. after World War II is now a preference which they hold.

Hanging, which is regarded as swift and sure, was mainly used because of the

assumption that it is painless because it rapidly dislocates the neck. The usual hanging

begins with a rope fastened around the neck of a prisoner, the knot under his left ear.

Next, the trap door upon which he is standing is opened causing a violent jerk when the

rope tightens. Then, he is left hanging until it is absolutely sure that he is dead.

According to Harold Hillman, a British physiologist, the dangling person feels cervical

pain, and probably suffers from an acute headache as well, a result of the rope closing off

the veins to the neck. “The belief that fracture of the spinal cord cause immediate death is

wrong in all but a small fraction of cases. The actual cause of death is strangulation or

suffocation.” First, after the trap doors opens, the prisoner’s weight causes tearing of the

cervical muscles, skin, and blood vessels. The upper cervical vertebrae is the dislocated

and spinal cord finally separated from the brain, causing death. This can take anywhere

from fifteen seconds to fifteen minutes (”This is your death…”). So much for doing the

prisoner a favor by giving him such a smooth and rapid death.

First used in the United States in 1977, lethal injection is now is the most

widespread with its use in twenty-three states. Of all the methods found in the U.S., it is

by far the most humane and least likely to have costly mistakes (Matthews). The prisoner

is strapped to a hospital gurney, built with an extension panel for the left arm.

Technicians stick a catheter needle into his arm and long tubes connect it through a wall

to several intravenous drips. The first which was started immediately is harmless saline

solution. The next drug is sodium thiopental, a common barbiturate used as an anesthetic,

which puts patients quickly to sleep. A normal dose for a long operation is one-thousand

milligrams so the prisoner receives two-thousand. As soon as he loses consciousness he is

given pavulon, a common muscle relaxant used in heart surgery. The dose now is

one-hundred milligrams, ten times the usual which stops his breathing, which would kill

him in ten minutes. To speed this up however, an equal dose of potassium chloride,

which is used in bypass surgery to stop the heart from pumping, is given and it works in

ten seconds (”This is your death…”). It is not hard to see why this is regarded as the best

as far as the prisoner is concerned.

While the aforementioned methods are widely known to be still in use, the

following is most likely thought to have disappeared long ago. Beheading, which is

known mainly because of the guillotine in the French Revolution, is still being carried

out by sword in countries such as Saudi Arabia. Like hanging, beheading was originally

thought of as quick and sure but recent medical finding show that oxygenated blood still

in the brain may allow consciousness and pain for up to thirty seconds. Reports have

even been that the severed head surveyed the crowd after its decapitation (Matthews).

When the day arrives for a prisoner in Saudi Arabia to be executed, he is taken to a

public square in the middle of the town where it is to be held. This is frequently where

the crime was committed to give some retribution for what was done (Moorehead). The

executioner emerges from the crowd, brandishing a scimitar and robed in all black. He

positions himself upstage allowing the victim to face Mecca, but still giving the audience

an unobstructed view. He grasps his sword firmly with both hands, coils back his body,

and lashes out at the back of the condemned’s neck. The prisoner’s head falls and the

deed is done, a crude and rudimentary execution with little concern for anyone involved


About as rare and abnormal as beheading, stoning is still instituted in some

Islamic states, namely Iran. Dating back to biblical times, modern day stoning consists of

basically the same procedures with a few modern revisions. The condemned is bound

hand and foot and buried up to the neck in sand with a white sheet placed over their head.

A crowd of bystanders is then allowed to pelt the guilty party until their lack of screams

indicates death. As one of these modern day “improvements” however, Iran’s law forbids

the use of stones any larger than a golf ball, as “they bring death too swiftly” (Matthews).

Just as one can tell much about a person by the music they listen too, one can also

tell a lot about a country’s society by the method of execution which they use. A country

that uses lethal injection, hanging, or any other of these “humane” methods must care

enough about their people to try and make their executions one that is less to them. On

the other side, if a country uses public beheading, stoning, or other inhumane methods,

they must have little regard for their citizens that they prefer them to suffer in

excruciating pain than they die in a quick and easy without remorse. The United States

for example has shown great concern for their citizens by having all methods used be

remotely humane. They have even removed electrocution from a few states and replaced

it with things such as lethal injection, even though electrocution is much more “kind” to

the condemned than a handful of other methods present in the world. It must take a very

backwards society to use methods which allow the public to participate in the execution.

All that thisdoes is make everyone want to be a part of this sadistic act and whose

children do not dream of being G.I. Joe or Barbie but being the lucky one who gets to

throw the first stone.

Whether it is done by hanging, firing squad, or stoning, all of these methods end

in the same way, someone’s death. This may be quick or the condemned may be writhing

in pain during their execution. All these different techniques show the amount of regard

for the lives of citizens in the countries in which they are used.


Hoff, Gary and Linda Petrucelli. “Law of Revenge Prevails in Taiwan.” The

Christian Century. 10 October 1990:893(2). Infotrac. MIC 56M0102.

Kaplan, David A. and Glick Danil. “Ready, aim … fire; Utah schedules an execution

by firing squad.” Newsweek. 29 January 1996:54. Infotrac.

Matthews, Robert. “The Final Judgment.” Focus. (London, England) November

1995:38-42. Rpt. in SIRS. Corrections, 1995:5:55.

Moorehead, Caroline. “Tinkering with Death.” World Press Review. July 1995:38(2).

Infotrac. MIC 79K0041.

“This is your death; capital punishment: what really happens.” The New Republic. 1

July 1991:23(4). Infotrac. MIC 60F0296.

Youkey, B. “Ostro, Hans Christian, d. 1995 – Kidnapping and Murder, Invitation to a

Beheading.” Commonweal. 10 February 1995:4-5. Infotrac. MIC 77H0002.

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