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Let There Be Life

While the legal and moral debate surrounding capital punishment shows no sign of abating, some advocates on both sides of the issue are refocusing their efforts and considering a newly theorized execution protocol known as nitrogen asphyxiation. If implemented, the protocol could be the most humane execution method ever employed, and potentially give hope to some of the estimated 100,000 citizens currently awaiting a life-saving transplant. While not at first apparent, these issues, among others, have become intertwined with the current clemency campaign being waged on behalf of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Mosley.

Barring a stay of execution, Mosley will be killed by lethal injection on July 16, 2009, making him the 201st person to be executed during Governor Perry's tenure. If Mosley is executed utilizing the three-drug lethal injection protocol, currently the sole execution protocol in Texas, Mosley's vital organs will be unsuitable for transplantation. Recent research suggest that it is now possible to humanely end human life without compromising the viability of organs and tissues for transplantation. The newly developed protocol utilizes an odorless and tasteless gas, pure nitrogen, painlessly causing asphyxiation due to the lack of oxygen. Asphyxiation may seem like an inhumane and painful death, however considerable research indicates this method is pain-free and leaves viable remains suitable for harvesting life-saving organs and tissue.

Many death row inmates view organ donation as a way to give meaning to their death by making up for some of the harm they have done to society. This growing group of inmates would like the opportunity to sign an advance directive indicating their intent to become an organ and tissue donor upon their death. However, the issue is moot given that currently utilized methods of execution render the corpse unsuitable for donation.

Given the twin advantages of nitrogen asphyxiation, humane death and organ viability, citizens around the country are petitioning their governors to grant a temporary moratorium on executions. The moratorium is needed to preserve the potential source of viable organs during legislative consideration of the new execution protocol. Many traditional pro-death penalty advocates are joining their former anti-death penalty adversaries in calling for the temporary moratorium.

The abolition of capital punishment is not the ideological driving force behind this moratorium campaign. Proponents of the moratorium are on a quest for time, a short delay of execution to serve the greater good and needs of society. If Governor Perry fails to hear this call for time and thereby fails to grant a stay of execution, July 16th will be the date that Kenneth Mosley, and others like him, will forever be denied the opportunity to give the gift of life. On average, 18 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant. However, if the moratorium is granted and legislation passed, nitrogen asphyxiation may assist in reducing these needless deaths. And the life saved may be your own, or that of a loved one.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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Let There Be Life

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