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The Executioner

  • #1
    Moderators, Category Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 46,916 mod Black Swan


    During debates on capital punishment, and whether Ireland (and the EU) should reinstate it, the focus is on the crime and criminal, and not on those who must execute the criminal: The Executioner.

    Allen Ault was a former prison warden (and executioner), now Dean of the College of Justice and Society, Eastern Kentucky University. After participating in several executions, he now concludes that it is "premeditated murder" on behalf of the courts. Regardless if the executioner was convinced that the sentenced-to-death-felon was guilty, the executioner role takes its toll on those required to perform executions.

    How many in society would be proud to claim that they were The Executioner? Would it be a discussion topic at house parties while Bar-B-Qing steaks? Would they put it on their business card, and tell their kids to share what they did with other kids at school? Or would they hide this part of their occupational identity, symbolically wearing the black hood of old?

    How can you in good conscience ask another human being to be The Executioner?


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Comments



  • I suspect the reason people can let the executioner do the dirty work, is because they mistakenly think they are not responsible for the execution.

    In my situation, I am a child of the state, under duress. I do not have a reasonable choice or option of leaving the state(it covers this whole land). I was born a slave through "lawful" bondage.
    However, I am given a choice on whether I want to participate in some functions of the state.
    Like voting new actors in, to absorb our hate and seemingly represent the majority.
    I would say then that anyone enabling the state to continue functioning while not under duress to do so, is responsible for all actions of the state.

    In relation to having "executioner"on a CV. I think all persons in that country who vote and are registered as voting, should have some credit for all things the state does while going about "serving" the citizens.
    If our state kills people to bandage a problem it has arguably created in the first place, voters should get some credit too. It is only fair really.

    I think voters should be called forward to do the execution, much like jury duty. They should be called to war if our country helps with war.
    But this will not happen.
    Because the whole foundations of government and the reason it keeps going, is the idea that the majority give up all responsibility to that government. If the voters were held acountable(openly) for the people they voted in, they may stop voting rather quickly!

    Imagine voters helped usher in a new constitution that destroyed loads of rights and indirectly allowed say, a bank conglomerate, to steal trillions of euro. In my scenario posed, the voters would foot the bill and everyone whodidn't vote, would not have to be a part of the clean up. Who would vote next year?

    The executioner is not the only one involved. But they are the ones that have to pay the price for an ignorant society.




  • I think there are some people who would be proud to be an Executioner; there are some people who will revel in any distinction, and there are others who are proud to serve the country that nurtures them in whatever capacity they are able. But I suspect by and large, like the gentleman in your example, most people would be inclined to make the 'executioner' part of their job title the secondary description, even if only to minimise the chance of that discussion whilst barbecuing steaks.

    There are plenty of unpleasant jobs that society needs people to do, I don't imagine that executioner is the worst of them. Certainly given a choice between killing a serial rapist every few months and spending every day wading through a metropolitan sewer, I know which job I'd choose.

    I guess whether or not society can in good conscience decide whether to ask someone to be the executioner is secondary to deciding whether it is conscionable to execute someone at all; if you accept the latter then the former is a reasonably easy ask I think.




  • It's interesting, I had not really considered seriously the idea that people would worry about the social stigma and not about the act of killing another person.
    Personally I would choose sewers every time for the latter reason.
    I wonder where society in general would stand if it was a poll.
    I think I could guess though :D Or am I too much of a pessimist when it comes to my view on society and it's ethics?




  • Absent the social stigma I can't really see a lot of personal downside for an omnivorous predator killing another omnivorous predator, which might well be why we have social stigmas....




  • Torakx wrote: »
    It's interesting, I had not really considered seriously the idea that people would worry about the social stigma and not about the act of killing another person.
    Through history the social stigma was the biggest part of it. There's a reason why executioners used to wear masks and it wasn't just fear of reprisals(which were rare). The role of the executioner was always an odd one. In times and cultures where the death penalty was a given, even lauded as a social need, the executioner was a little or a lot outside the Pale socially. In France it was a family affair and they tended to marry within the family or with other families involved in the guillotine trade. To the degree that genetic illnesses were common. In the UK where it was seen as an honourable enough trade, it was a rare thing for an "honourable man" to take an active part. It was definitely a trade, not a profession and they weren't paid particularly well given the possible mental, emotional and social stresses involved.

    It was also a more complex task than just slipping the noose and pulling the trapdoor. They prepared the equipment(in the case of the guillotine this was quite the rigamarole), they also prepared the body afterwards for burial. They did the whole package as it were.

    In Islamic cultures it's a little different. There it is seen more as doing the will of god, rather than the society, so executioners are respected, even feted for their skills in carrying out clean beheadings with swords(not easy). In Saudi Arabia the have even made TV appearances to rapt audiences. In that culture they'd have it on their business cards.

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.



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  • Wibbs wrote: »
    In Islamic cultures it's a little different. There it is seen more as doing the will of god, rather than the society, so executioners are respected, even feted for their skills in carrying out clean beheadings with swords(not easy). In Saudi Arabia the have even made TV appearances to rapt audiences. In that culture they'd have it on their business cards.

    You do not have to leave Western culture to find something like this. Former Florida State Prison Warden Ron McAndrew recounts:
    When I became warden I learned that it was tradition for the "death team" to go out for breakfast the morning after an execution. On the early morning after John Bush's execution the 'traditional breakfast' was held 15 miles south of the death chamber at a Shoney's in Starke, Florida. This was my first execution and I felt that tradition was important and moreover, the well being of the 'team' was my responsibility. In this small town of 5000 most everyone works at the prison, is retired from the prison or has a family member in the business. Everyone in the restaurant knew who we were and what we had just done...there were even a few 'high five signs.'




  • This post has been deleted.




  • Executions have, like many aspects of modern life, become medicalised. The 'executioner' is a doctor and the murder itself is a 'medical procedure'. Looking at it this way naturally makes it easier to swallow for those involved and those who support it. Similarly, the tortuous act of force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners is a 'treatment' and the torturer is a doctor 'helping them'.




  • Permabear wrote: »
    This post had been deleted.

    Not to say that one being wrong means the other is right :D
    I don't like either choice lol




  • Permabear wrote: »
    This post had been deleted.

    MOD: The topic of this thread is "The Executioner," not the military. They are both complex and different topics, and to introduce a discussion regarding the military may result in derailing this thread. If you wish to seriously discuss the military in a new OP across disciplines in Humanities, that would be welcome. If you have any questions regarding this, PM me, and don't discuss moderation in-thread. Thanks.


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  • Torakx wrote: »
    In relation to having "executioner"on a CV. I think all persons in that country who vote and are registered as voting, should have some credit for all things the state does while going about "serving" the citizens.
    If our state kills people to bandage a problem it has arguably created in the first place, voters should get some credit too. It is only fair really.

    I think voters should be called forward to do the execution, much like jury duty. They should be called to war if our country helps with war.
    But this will not happen.
    Because the whole foundations of government and the reason it keeps going, is the idea that the majority give up all responsibility to that government. If the voters were held acountable(openly) for the people they voted in, they may stop voting rather quickly!

    Novel and interesting concept, but I doubt that it would work.

    First, some people would flat out refuse on the grounds of conscience, or belief, or religious objection, despite the sanction of a possible death penalty being visited upon them.

    Conscientious objections aside, some people would simply not be up to the job. Whether or not they agreed with the death penalty, they would not have whatever it takes to kill another person. I suppose that it would take a kind of a killer instinct to do it, and not everybody is like that.

    Secondly, there would be no need for such a system of conscripting unwilling executioners. As the thread title implies, there are people who will do this job for pay. Therefore, I don't see the necessity to traumatize some registered voter to do it.

    Thirdly, I'd imagine that it would dissuade a lot of people from going on the electoral register, and I would not like to be at the mercy of those who remained on that register, when it comes to election time.

    On a slightly different note, there was a programme on telly during the week about Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman. He used to be brought over from England to carry out the executions in this country. I think that he came from a family of executioners.

    I went on a prison tour of Mountjoy once. It was an eye opener, for various reasons. They showed us the old gallows, which are still there. I'm not sure how much salt to put with what we were told, but the prison officer told us that the hangman (Pierrepoint, presumably) could tell by a condemned prisoner's condition, as to how much rope he would need for the drop, for a correct execution. What the PO said was that if there was too little rope, the prisoner would not be killed instantly, and could suffer a painful, drawn out death. I don't know whether to believe this or not, but he also said that if too much rope was used, there could be a gruesome decapitation.

    So there is another aspect to the job; carrying out a humane execution, which minimises the suffering of the condemned person.

    There was another interesting documentary on Film4 some weeks or months ago. It had a kind of silly title: "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchtner". It was about a self-taught engineer who was the son of a prison officer. He designed and built electric chairs. The film goes off on a different tack about how he investigated gas chambers in Poland, formed the view that they could not have been used to execute people, and how he became a holocaust denier. This view was extremely unpopular and he fell out of favour as a result.

    I thought that it was interesting when he discussed how he replied to the question of how he could live with himself, doing what he did (designing capital punishment devices), where he answered that he was ensuring a humane death, that without his input prisoners could survive an attempted execution, albeit with permanent, catastrophic injuries.





  • Valmont wrote: »
    Executions have, like many aspects of modern life, become medicalised. The 'executioner' is a doctor and the murder itself is a 'medical procedure'.

    Is that true? Where do doctors carry out executions?
    Also, if a killing is state sanctioned, how can you call it a murder; it's a lawful death isn't it?




  • Valmont wrote: »
    Executions have, like many aspects of modern life, become medicalised. The 'executioner' is a doctor and the murder itself is a 'medical procedure'.
    Absolam wrote: »
    Is that true? Where do doctors carry out executions?

    The Utah 2006 execution protocol includes:
    ...teams of medical professionals will give Rhoades a series of three drugs: an anesthetic, then a paralyzing drug, and finally potassium chloride, which will cause cardiac arrest and death.

    How can a "medical professional" in good conscience be The Executioner? Licensed medical professionals typically have a code of ethics to do no harm, and often take the Hippocratic Oath. Is this a contradiction, and if so, is there guilt associated with intentionally breaking these ethics and Oath for such medical professionals?




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    The Utah 2006 execution protocol includes:
    How can a "medical professional" in good conscience be The Executioner? Licensed medical professionals typically have a code of ethics to do no harm, and often take the Hippocratic Oath. Is this a contradiction, and if so, is there guilt associated with intentionally breaking these ethics and Oath for such medical professionals?
    Are you confusing medical professionals with Doctors? My understanding is that in the USA Doctors (or Physicians as they say) only certify the death; they don't participate in the execution for the very reason you mentioned; it violates their Hippocratic Oath. Whereas 'medical professionals' covers a wide range of professions. Still, I imagine it would take some moral acrobatics to justify taking a life to yourself when you believe your raison d'etre is the preservation of life.




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    The Utah 2006 execution protocol includes:



    How can a "medical professional" in good conscience be The Executioner? Licensed medical professionals typically have a code of ethics to do no harm, and often take the Hippocratic Oath. Is this a contradiction, and if so, is there guilt associated with intentionally breaking these ethics and Oath for such medical professionals?

    The Hippocratic oath has been largely modified so that it bears no resemblance to Hippocrate's originial oath of doing no harm.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/hippocratic-oath-today.html#classical

    I can't see how anyone but a medical professional could do this job if it is done by lethal injection.




  • diveout wrote: »
    I can't see how anyone but a medical professional could do this job if it is done by lethal injection.
    Absolam wrote: »
    Still, I imagine it would take some moral acrobatics to justify taking a life to yourself when you believe your raison d'etre is the preservation of life.

    Is this the essence of a moral dilemma (above) for the medical professional called upon to be The Executioner? Is the spirit and intent of medicine and its practitioners in contradiction with the premeditated killing of another human being? To what extent do persons enter medicine to be premeditated killers? Given this moral dilemma, how in good conscience can other people ask their medical professional to take on this burden for them: to be The Executioner?

    Part of the problem in discussing this issue is that we may be objectifying and distancing ourselves from the personal ramifications of asking another person to be The Executioner. I could not ask the medical professionals I know personally, and share friendships with, to be premeditated killers. Could you?




  • In my own view I think capital punishment isn't inherently wrong. I think its just very impractical as its currently and has been historically done in relation to dealing with the problems posed by individuals. Its often said that locking someone away for life is a far crueller act and a better option to punish those that should suffer for their crimes.

    I don't think punishment and suffering for the sake of it achieves anything in and of itself. When handing down a sentence it needs to be a solution to a problem and the reasons for taking the action and the effect of it needs to be clear if its going to be a solution that cannot be reversed. I think if it was cost effective where cost had to be reduced and done in relation to a repeat offender for whom there is no expectation of rehabilitation, who poses a significant threat to society and who's guilt was without question it may be a valid solution to a problem. Simply solving the problem of that individuals negative impact on society and drain on resources to the detriment of other people by ending their existence.

    So in that regard I'd see execution as quite different than how its done today or in the past as retribution for a crime or with some immeasurable chance of it being a deterrent. Perhaps it ill never be practical or viable as a solution. But if it was and in that context I don't personally see any moral dilemma of ending another beings life.




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    Is this the essence of a moral dilemma (above) for the medical professional called upon to be The Executioner? Is the spirit and intent of medicine and its practitioners in contradiction with the premeditated killing of another human being? To what extent do persons enter medicine to be premeditated killers? Given this moral dilemma, how in good conscience can other people ask their medical professional to take on this burden for them: to be The Executioner?

    Part of the problem in discussing this issue is that we may be objectifying and distancing ourselves from the personal ramifications of asking another person to be The Executioner. I could not ask the medical professionals I know personally, and share friendships with, to be premeditated killers. Could you?

    People do all the time. Think euthanasia.




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    I could not ask the medical professionals I know personally, and share friendships with, to be premeditated killers. Could you?

    What way does that work with increased dosages for terminally ill patients ending in death though ? Doctors know very well to increase dosages of substances like morphine in patients will result in death. Yet they do it and it was that drug and that doctors actions that directly caused the patients death. They determine the need to treat the patient for their pain as more important than the need to keep them alive at all costs. And its the illness that's seen as the cause of death and not the doctor.

    Similarly could the executioner not also see themselves as dealing with the problem of an individual or their crimes that needs to be dealt with as society dictates and the convict/crime being seen as being responsible for the death and not the executioner ?




  • diveout wrote: »
    People do all the time. Think euthanasia.
    What way does that work with increased dosages for terminally ill patients ending in death though ? Doctors know very well to increase dosages of substances like morphine in patients will result in death.

    Aside from being illegal in most countries, the reasons for, and morality behind euthanasia may have many differences from what we discuss here, as well as for the conscience of the medical professional as a REAL person. It would be a good topic for a new thread.

    Per the final comment in my last post, are you objectifying and distancing yourself from the personal ramifications of asking a medical professional you personally know, and may care for as a friend, to do a premeditated killing (i.e., be The Executioner for the courts)? I could never ask my true friends to do this. I care for them too much. It would be a living nightmare for them.


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  • Black Swan wrote: »
    Aside from being illegal in most countries, the reasons for, and morality behind euthanasia may have many differences from what we discuss here, as well as for the conscience of the medical professional as a REAL person. It would be a good topic for a new thread.

    Per the final comment in my last post, are you objectifying and distancing yourself from the personal ramifications of asking a medical professional you personally know, and may care for as a friend, to do a premeditated killing (i.e., be The Executioner for the courts)? I could never ask my true friends to do this. I care for them too much. It would be a living nightmare for them.

    I wasn't talking about euthanasia though. I'm talking about increased dosages to deal with pain in terminally ill patients causing their deaths. Not done to result in death but death being accepted as being very likely. Its my understanding the doctors in these situations and indeed the family who are involved in the decision do not consider themselves directly responsible for the patients death. Yet it is their decisions and their actions that directly cause it.

    As for asking someone you consider a friend to do it I don't think I would ask anyone to do it who wasn't willing to do it because you don't know how they personally will view it or how it will affect them.

    However I would do it myself I think. As I alluded to in the previous post if it can be seen just like the increased dosage as a rational response to a problem that needs to be dealt with rather than retribution for a crime then the responsibility for the death can be directed at the cause of the problem and not the solution I think. But I guess there is no way to know until you were actually faced with it and it became a reality how it would affect you.




  • I wasn't talking about euthanasia though. I'm talking about increased dosages to deal with pain in terminally ill patients causing their deaths. Not done to result in death but death being accepted as being very likely. Its my understanding the doctors in these situations and indeed the family who are involved in the decision do not consider themselves directly responsible for the patients death. Yet it is their decisions and their actions that directly cause it.

    As for asking someone you consider a friend to do it I don't think I would ask anyone to do it who wasn't willing to do it because you don't know how they personally will view it or how it will affect them.

    However I would do it myself I think. As I alluded to in the previous post if it can be seen just like the increased dosage as a rational response to a problem that needs to be dealt with rather than retribution for a crime then the responsibility for the death can be directed at the cause of the problem and not the solution I think. But I guess there is no way to know until you were actually faced with it and it became a reality how it would affect you.

    Difference is that is thought of as a mercy killing, a public execution is completely different. But they are both pre-meditated.




  • diveout wrote: »
    Difference is that is thought of as a mercy killing, a public execution is completely different.

    Its not really though when you're boiling it down to being a "Premeditated killing" and analysing the morality of it. In the situation I highlighted above its not a mercy killing. Its an attempt to deal with a problem while accepting it will directly cause the death of an individual. While its done for their benefit the responsibility for the death can still be directed towards the cause of the problem not the actual cause of death.

    Imo that same logic in the right circumstance can be used to justify an execution. As I said it may never happen that it is a viable option but I don't think you can categorically state that an execution is inherently wrong or that there would be severe moral and social issues for those who did it. In the past it was justifiable and it was a trade for those who did it. Society has changed and its no longer seen as necessary now so its viewed very differently I'd imagine. Were it once again a viable option I wouldn't see any moral implications personally with ending the life of another being.




  • I wasn't talking about euthanasia though. I'm talking about increased dosages to deal with pain in terminally ill patients causing their deaths. Not done to result in death but death being accepted as being very likely. Its my understanding the doctors in these situations and indeed the family who are involved in the decision do not consider themselves directly responsible for the patients death. Yet it is their decisions and their actions that directly cause it.
    Once again, the morality, reasoning, and impacts on the consciences of medical professionals may have many differences from those associated with being The Executioner for the courts (and a good topic for a new thread).
    As for asking someone you consider a friend to do it I don't think I would ask anyone to do it who wasn't willing to do it because you don't know how they personally will view it or how it will affect them.
    I know my friends. They would never, ever be premeditated killers for the courts.
    However I would do it myself I think.
    You would be The Executioner? You would not lose any sleep after killing another human being, no matter how many you killed by order of the courts? One, two, five, ten or more premeditated killings on behalf of the courts? It would not give you nightmares?

    The two former wardens cited in this thread would disagree with you, who were REAL executioners, now suffering from troubled consciences (even if they believed the convicted and executed criminals were guilty), but then again their cases were anecdotal, and not research based.




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    You would be The Executioner? You would not lose any sleep after killing another human being, no matter how many you killed by order of the courts? One, two, five, ten or more premeditated killings on behalf of the courts? It would not give you nightmares?

    The two former wardens cited in this thread would disagree with you, who were REAL executioners, now suffering from troubled consciences (even if they believed the convicted and executed criminals were guilty), but then again their cases were anecdotal, and not research based.

    If you are solely talking about being an executioner in a retributive justice system in current day Ireland then that's a different story. I don't see any moral issues in the act itself of causing the death of another human being provided I was sure it was necessary which I don't consider retribution to be.

    But as I said there is no way of knowing how it would affect you until you are faced with the reality of it. The slightest doubt about the morality of what you are doing could lead to a lot of problems.

    Which is why I mention the doctors increasing the dosage. I don't believe they have sleepless nights over it given they feel what they did was necessary and they are not directly responsible for the death even though their actions directly caused it. I don't think the ending of the life itself is the issue. The reasons to end it is. And if there's a valid reason then the conscience can remain clear.




  • Which is why I mention the doctors increasing the dosage. I don't believe they have sleepless nights over it given they feel what they did was necessary and they are not directly responsible for the death even though their actions directly caused it. I don't think the ending of the life itself is the issue. The reasons to end it is. And if there's a valid reason then the conscience can remain clear.

    Once again, this would be a good topic for a new thread. If you don't start one, I may when I get time to research it a bit. Or someone else can...




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    Once again, this would be a good topic for a new thread. If you don't start one, I may when I get time to research it a bit. Or someone else can...

    I'm sorry if I'm diverting from the topic but I'm just trying to show that given a valid reason one can end another's life without feeling compelled to take on responsibility for the death.

    So for your question.
    How can you in good conscience ask another human being to be The Executioner?

    You make sure there is a valid reason beyond simple retribution to end the life of the other human being and that the act is necessary. You can ask in good conscience and there is no shame attached to doing it imo. Its just down to the person themselves and whether or not they have the constitution and are willing to do it.




  • Its just down to the person themselves and whether or not they have the constitution and are willing to do it.
    Please define "constitution" in the context of The Executioner?




  • Black Swan wrote: »
    Please define "constitution" in the context of The Executioner?

    Someone capable of dealing with all that's involved. Morally just or not its not a trivial task and anything involving death is not something everyone can handle. Not everyone has the constitution to be an undertaker for example.


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  • Black Swan wrote: »
    Please define "constitution" in the context of The Executioner?
    Measured, not overly emotional, efficient, even detail obsessive, but compassionate in carrying out the duty of the court/society in as humane a way as possible(someone who can keep their mouth shut to the media a given). That's pretty much the standard by which the UK government selected for executioners back in the day.

    The compassion aspect seems to have been a consistent character trait among them. It's why the scientific approach to long drop hanging came about in the first place. To make the extinction of life as fast and painless as possible. The guillotine was again designed to be efficient and painless(though the jury is a little out there*) and the French executioners also used the compassion word when talking about their duties.

    It may be a cultural thing again though. The US culture seems much more geared to outright revenge, more medieval in its application of the death penalty, so the bravado can be more. Interestingly various methods of execution were tried the most in the US. New fangled electricity was thought to be scientific and painless(highly unlikely), the gas chamber another attempt to avoid "cruel and unusual punishment", yet it is both and took long enough to be removed from wider use, even when from the off it was seen to be grisly and extremely painful and distressing. The Islamic cultural vibe in Saudi Arabia prides itself on a speedy beheading(stoning is another thing entirely however), so pride is involved in the execution of that. The Chinese approach seems to be, at least from an outsider, one of expediency and efficiency.

    Could I do it? I dunno. Beyond bravado, I reckon I could in "hot blood". IE if the condemned had viciously murdered someone close to me, or I was up for the job of hanging Pol Pot or the like. That would be revenge type action though. In "cold blood", with a stranger and me as an arm of society? I really doubt I'd have the stomach for it TBH. Though I suspect the hot blooded action would be more likely to cause lasting mental and emotional damage. Being an arm of the state would allow some distance. If you look at the list of UK executioners, remarkably few retired because of emotional/mental strain and remarkably few, if any took any relish from the job. Clearly the selection process was a solid one.





    *the story of the "living head" experiment by a doctor that has some currency is utterly bogus mind you. Never happened. It couldn't have happened.

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.



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