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Elayne Boosler Headshot

Dying Like a Dog

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Ever since I last blogged about capital punishment, after the Saddam Hussein execution, and read your thoughtful and passionate comments, both pro and con, (and by the way, if you disagree with me, commenting that I am an out of work has-been still does not make a convincing case for your side of the argument) I have been thinking about the death penalty.

I've finally reached some clarity. Sadly, I had to put another dog to sleep (for me, this is losing family, but the good kind). Thankfully he wasn't ill, but I did get a new white couch, so... (a joke from my act, used of course to keep my emotions at bay.. so hard..). Again, I held a loved one in my arms, and felt him fall peacefully, serenely asleep. The first drug, slowly administered, puts dogs into a deep, sound sleep. The second one provides so gentle a passing, so soft a connection from here to there, that only the fact that the soft breath in my ear stops coming makes me aware that he may now be gone, even the vet can't be sure without a stethoscope. I have gone through this more times than I would like to remember, and it's always the same. The gentlest way to leave this earth; no fear, no pain, no tangible awareness of the tipping point.

After a Costco sized palette of tissues and a bathtub sized run of Skyy, my conspiracy prone mind snapped to: Why do we put dogs "to sleep", but execute people, and botch that so badly that currently there are moratoriums on lethal injection in California, Florida, and many other states? Why can't prisoners "die like dogs"?

Dr. Alan Schulman, a brilliant Los Angeles veterinarian and orthopedic surgeon, answered my questions.

EB
Can the same injections that put dogs to sleep be used on humans?

Dr. Schulman
Yes.

EB
With the same painless results?

Dr. Schulman
Absolutely.

EB
So all the things I've read about there being no good way to kill yourself, that every drug has some horrible last minute "gotcha" where you wake up, choke, vomit, panic, suffocate, scream, writhe, whatever, all that isn't true.

Dr. Schulman
That's right.

EB
What are they using to kill prisoners?

Dr. Schulman
The final injection is Potassium Chloride. That's what we used on dogs twenty years ago. We stopped using that on dogs twenty years ago because it was cruel.

EB
Are you still dating Nicolette Sheridan?

Dr. Schulman
No. That's over.

So, why doesn't the government use the "dog" drug for capital punishment? And why can't terminal people who are suffering and quite near the end make that choice to go gently, and be spared the agony? Why are our dogs having better deaths than our parents? Maybe because, if we made executions painless, and switched from injecting inmates with Potassium Chloride to injecting them with a painless agent, the anti- capital punishment side would lose its argument of cruel and unusual punishment. They get to stop the executions while the courts debate the cruelty of the shot, yet they never suggest using the non cruel shot. So the side that claims to not want to kill humans is okay with letting them die horribly, painfully, to bolster its own arguments. And if society knew that euthanasia could be so gentle, that would be a very bad thing for the fundamentalists who seek to impose their anti-euthanasia agenda on the population.

I still have no definitive opinion on my support or lack thereof for capital punishment, but I do know that if we are going to kill people for heinous crimes, in my heart I believe they at least deserve to die like dogs.

Elayne Boosler and Merrill Markoe sit in for Stephanie Miller March 5-9. Check www.stephaniemiller.com for your local radio station.