June 2020 Edition. Volume XX

The circa 1940s science fiction story “axolotl” described the experience of the first astronaut to leave earth.  As the astronaut passes beyond the earth’s atmosphere he becomes the first human being to be exposed to significant cosmic radiation.  This exposure is such that it causes him to tamorphasize into the “mature” form of the animal homo sapiens.

The axoltl (also known as the mudpuppy) is a aquatic amphibian which lives out its entire life in it’s juvenile form characterized by the presence of external gills as shown in the illustration..


When it comes to considering the debate on the controversial subject of the death penalty and euthanasia it becomes clear that we are still in the “axolotl” phase of human development.  When we metamorphasize into our next philogenetic phase will we then create for ourselves a world in which all life is considered to be sacred and no animals are killed for food or clothing?  If this is the romantic notion, what then is the reality? The present reality is that we exist in a world seething in violence and death where strangers slaughter the innocent and helpless and neighbors slaughter neighbors.

Why then should the death penalty be considered cruel and inhumane given this reality? If cruel and inhumane is to be rated on a sliding scale hanging, shooting, and electrocution seem to be much more cruel than effective lethal injection which is akin to departing in a peaceful sleep (when properly administered).  One needs only to consider the previously common practices of being “drawn and quartered”, “impaled”, “keelhauled”, placed “on the rack”, or burned at the stake and the contemporary derangements of ISIS in order to establish a true perspective.

Isn’t it the role of government to maintain public safety?  Frank Rizzo (1920-1991)was the mayor of Philadelphia in the 1970s.  He was a strong advocate , advocate of the death penalty because, as he saw it, “at least you can be sure that they’ll never do it again.”  The public needs to be protected from those who will do it again given the opportunity to do so.  Our penal system has been accused of complicity in releasing felons who have “done it again” as well as preventing oppressed citizens from effectively protecting themselves when faced with this behavior. Without a death penalty criminals are further encouraged to kill their victims and “eliminate a witness” in order to improve chances of escape.

Most certainly there are crimes so heinous that the public cries out for a death penalty.  Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001 or the incessant ISIS beheadings it has been fascinating to note that even the most vocal opponents of the death penalty have suddenly fallen silent.  How liberal can one be in ever returning to society one who has been involved in heinous crimes?

Perhaps the litmus test here should be one’s reaction to the fate of a rabid dog  running amok in the community and savagely biting passers-by.  Do the nay-sayers propose lifetime imprisonment for the dog rather than its destruction?  One can be a lover of dogs, as well as a lover of life, and also recognize the legitimate and compelling need to destroy rabid animals.

On July 20, 2001 “Como”, a beautiful and rare white Siberian tiger bit a 7 year old child at a wildlife refuge in Racine, Minnesota.  The child experienced two bite wounds 2-3 inches deep.  This tiger had been vaccinated against rabies and demonstrated no evidence of this.  The girl’s family, however, did not wish for her to undergo the painful rabies injections and Minnesota law required that a rabid animal’s brain be pathologically examined.  Como was therefore sacrificed on July 27, 2001 and was found to have no evidence of rabies.  The Minnesota law, similar to those in other states, is obsolete.  With DNA analysis and genomic testing it is now possible to use inexpensive and minimally invasive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques to identify a variety of viral diseases including rabies without killing a animal.

The facts show incontrovertibly that mankind continues in the xylotyl stage of maturity on many of the issues relating to life and death.  There is, of course, a real concern regarding the destruction of the right dog, tiger, criminal, or terrorist because ever-accumulating evidence suggests that there have been an inordinate number of past transgressions in which  innocents have been inappropriately punished or put to death. Clearly greater effort and better technology are needed in identifying guilty parties while also protecting the innocent.

As we await the arrival of more advanced human species on planet earth part of a interim answer might be to better employ a “three strikes and you’re out” program where three strikes are automatically “awarded” for a heinous crime but for lesser offenses single strikes, and parts of strikes (i.e. a 1,000th of a strike for a parking violation), are meted out for criminal behavior typically with no associated incarceration. These awards would be permanent in nature and carried, as a lifelong liability, upon one’s person.  In this way individuals will have to take responsibility for their actions and are punished, but are also given an opportunity to return to becoming a responsible individual by changing their behavior,  If this is not their choice they will continue to accumulate penalties until the three strike level is reached.

While it is difficult to know the consequences of any innovative action such as the “three strikes and you’re out” approach it clearly appears to be an idea whose time has come.  The dramatic advent in personal identification technologies will assure that the right person is being charged and monitored.  A huge additional benefit will be the freeing up of the remarkably enormous sums presently being expended for the incarceration of large numbers of prisoners at a time that societal cost saving is an imperative issue.  The monies saved could certainly be directed toward better investments in the health and welfare of society.

There are hard core death penalty opponents who disagree with the statistic but, it is clear that the death penalty deters murder in the same way that the concealed carry of firearms by well-trained and responsible citizens reduces crime.

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