Hot Potato: Food for Thought
This Won't Hurt a Bit
1997 August 06

Cognitive dissonance, psychologists call it. What you see conflicts with what you know. What you see is a man (and it's almost always a man) lying on a gurney with an intravenous hookup. He's surrounded by a lot of anxious people. It looks as if they must be trying to help him. What you know, though, is that they're going to kill him. This is the picture of executions in America today.

It used to be that executions were gory events. It was obvious that something terrible was happening. Heads got chopped off, people flailed around at the end of a rope, there was a loud report as a fusillade was fired, the victim went into violent spasms as the first shock hit. However it was done, there was no mistaking what was going on.

Using advanced technology, people are now killed without a whimper. They just fade quietly away. This has made execution more palatable and less controversial than it might otherwise be. But the fact that it appears less violent does not actually make it any less violent. Killing one of its citizens is one of the most violent things a state can do. Let's be clear about that.

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