The Supreme Court puts the spotlight on the mode of execution in death penalty cases

Source: The post is based on the article “The Supreme Court puts the spotlight on the mode of execution in death penalty cases” published in the Indian Express on 27th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS – 2: mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections.

Relevance: About the mode of execution in death penalty cases.

News: Recent Supreme Court debates have spotlighted the mode of execution in death penalty cases.

What was the case about and What is the Centre’s stand on death by hanging?

Read here: SC Bench seeks data on alternatives to hanging

What are the observations of the SC on death sentences?

Read more: Abolition is the way: On the higher judiciary’s move on the death penalty

What are the issues associated with the execution by hanging in death penalty?

Immense suffering while executing: A documentary on “instantaneous death” by dislocating the cervical vertebrae in the US and the UK exposes that the persons undergo immense suffering due to asphyxiation before dying.

Chances of errors: Researchers have found that death by hanging has many instances of snapped ropes, necks that slipped out of nooses, partial or total decapitations, and slow death due to strangulation (instead of having the neck broken).

So, the immediate and painless nature of death attributed to hanging is an exception rather than the rule.

Global shift: Various courts including the Privy Council, the Supreme Court of Uganda and the High Court of Tanzania have relied on the suffering caused by hangings to reject it as a humane method of execution.

Issues in implementation: Ever since the constitutional validity of the death penalty was upheld, significant constitutional concerns have emerged over every aspect of its administration.

What are the challenges in changing the mode of execution in death penalty cases?

Meeting constitutional requirements: Just because the death penalty is currently permissible it is not open to the state to use any method of execution. Any mode of execution that the state adopts must be capable of meeting constitutional requirements and that is a burden for the state to discharge.

Issues with lethal injections: Execution in death penalty using lethal injections have the following issues. a) Irrefutable evidence from the US that lethal injections have been mishandled and leading to immense suffering. For example, a private study that examined 9,000 executions in the US between 1900 to 2010 found that executions using lethal injection had a higher rate of being botched than any other method, b) The procedure of lethal injections has not been scientifically or medically studied on human beings.

Note: Most states rely on a three-drug combination of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride for lethal injections. While sodium thiopental puts the prisoner to sleep, pancuronium bromide renders the prisoner paralytic and unable to show any pain before potassium chloride causes cardiac arrest. 

What should be done?

Instead of searching for the mode of execution in the death penalty, India should revisit the very administration of the death penalty in India.

Read more: Death penalty: Deciding the rarest of the rare
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