Thursday, February 23, 2006

#240 - Of Relative Morality and Michael Morales

So let's make sure we all have our priorities screwed on tightly, shall we?

Michael Morales was scheduled to die by lethal injection at San Quentin prison this past Tuesday. He was convicted of an extremely brutal torture killing and has been on Death Row for twenty five years, if I have the basic facts correct. At the last minute, Morales' lawyers were able to push a "cruel and unusual" defense in front of the courts by claiming that the California lethal injection process does not guarantee that the prisoner is completely unconscious when the "cocktail" is administered. Most unfortunately, a federal judge agreed and the whole thing has now been postponed "indefinitely."

Oh, we tried. We really did. We (being the state) agreed to bring in two anaesthesiologists to ensure that poor Mr. Morales was completely knocked out before we killed him. Sure, he may have been guilty of a heinous crime that will affect the family and neighbors of the victim for years to come, but that's no reason why we shouldn't respect his right to die with dignity. Irony is never pretty.

Then, before that attempt to turn Mr. Morales into worm chow could take place, the anaesthesiologists refused to participate, claiming that such work would violate their ethical adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. (As one family member of the victim put it this morning: the "hippocratical oath." I'm not altogether certain that was a malaprop.) The family and, indeed, the entire community of Lodi are furious and hurt by this nonsensical legal posturing. The local talking-head news radio station here in Los Angeles interviewed one of the lawyers for Tookie Williams. He went so far as to claim that Morales' attornies performed a "rather brilliant piece of lawyering, and should be commended." I think I stepped in a piece of lawyering like that a while back, and had to throw those shoes away.

As infuriating as this spectacle is, I read this morning (H/T: Fetching Jen) of an even more ironic coincidence that took place in New Orleans subsequent to Hurricane Katrina. There are allegations that doctors - no doubt out of concern that their patients would "suffer needlessly" - euthanized some patients in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. None of this is by any means official, of course, and the information is still sketchy. National Public Radio is on the case and says the details of the investigation thus far are pretty harrowing. Some doctors, apparently, fled the hospital rather than go through with it. But it still may have happened.

So this got me to thinking. Since we seem to have suddenly become squeamish about making Saint Victim Morales the latest to suffer far less than his own victim, why not work out a barter arrangement with the staff of Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans? We send them our highly ethical anaethesiologists to prevent the euthanizing of patients whose most violent acts probably related to toe-nail clippers, and they send us their Kevorkian specialists to help us take care of Morales.

Then sit me down and explain to me why ours seems to be the screwiest society on the face of the earth.

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