A few days ago John Kruzel published a really fine article at Slate calling for the return of the guillotine. Kruzel points out the many problems with lethal injection as a form of capital punishment, and he points out that by contrast, the guillotine is (believe it or not) more humane and less messy. He even adds to his “modest proposal” that ” it’s better for organ recipients because the bodies of guillotined prisoners could be more quickly harvested for viable parts, unlike organs that may become unusable after lethal injection due to hypoxemia.”
Kruzel goes on to explain that he finds capital punishment to be objectionable (indeed, “abhorrent”) in practice and in theory. I do too. See my review of “At the Death House Door.” And that’s why I agree with Kruzel. It is time to return the guillotine as the method of capital punishment. You see, lethal injection is designed to shield the horror from spectators: paralyze a body and then slowly, painfully destroy it from within. But the guillotine is like that crazy uncle that always speaks his mind. The metal blade slices, the head rolls in the basket, eyes still blinking, darting wildly around, while blood squirts in a fine spray from the neck. Grisly, yes, but why should killing another human being be something other than grisly?
It was the experience of witnessing a public beheading that changed Leo Tolstoy’s views on capital punishment. In his memoirs My Confession and the Spirit of Christ’s Teaching he reflected on the killing he’d witnessed:
When I saw the head divided from the body and heard the sound with which it fell separately into the box, I understood, not with my reason, but with my whole being, that no theory of the wisdom of all established things, nor of progress, could justify such an act; and that if all the men in the world from the day of creation, by whatever theory, had found this thing necessary, it was not so; it was a bad thing, and that therefore I must judge of what was right and necessary, not by what men said and did, not by progress, but what I felt to be true in my heart.