The death penalty has been the subject of renewed debate in recent months. Since January 2014 numerous media outlets, including Catholic News Service, have reported on at least three executions of convicted killers that did not go according to plan. In each case the prisoners appeared to be struggling or in pain for a length of time before dying, and in one case the execution process was halted after 40 minutes, and the man died the next day of a heart attack, according to CNS.
On the heels of the news of such botched executions it should come as no surprise, then, that the general public’s support for the death penalty seems to be declining, said Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference and director of Catholic Action Network.
"As human beings, our instinct is not to tolerate that. I think it is driving a new public consensus that the death penalty is wrong," Gallagher told the Catholic Courier.
Recent polls appear to back up this assertion. In 2011 62 percent of American adults favored the death penalty for convicted murderers, but by 2013 that number had fallen to 55 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. And in October 2013 Gallup reported that American support for the death penalty was the lowest it had been in 40 years. The American Medical Association, the American Board of Anesthesiology and the Society of Correctional Physicians have prohibited their members from participating in executions, and many drug companies have banned their products from use in executions.
The death penalty currently is illegal in 18 states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and several other states have placed moratoriums on executions.
"Clearly, a greater number of states are now realizing that capital punishment is arbitrary, barbaric, discriminatory and capable of great error," Gallagher said.
New York’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in 2004, and the last remaining death sentence in the state was vacated in 2007, according to the Catholic conference. The law that had authorized capital punishment in the state is still on the books, however, and every year some members of the state Legislature try to revive it through bills that would amend the parts of the law that were deemed unconstitutional, Gallagher said.
The Catholic conference consistently opposes these bills, which haven’t garnered much support since the state Assembly published a 2005 report on the state’s death penalty, she said. Nonetheless, the Catholic conference would like to see New York abolish the death penalty in order to ensure that executions never take place in this state again.
The Catholic conference supports legislation (A02603), which would repeal the death penalty in New York state, she added.
"The law is a great teacher, and I think for our legislative representatives to abolish the death penalty would be a great lesson for our children that it is wrong to kill people to show that killing is wrong, and also illogical," Gallagher said.