Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).
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Last night marked another horrific chapter in our nation's practice of capital punishment. In Oklahoma, two executions were scheduled for last night, following a new three-drug protocol. The first drug administered was midazolam, already used as part of a botched execution in Florida. (see my previous post on this topic for pharmacologic details and links.)
About 10 minutes into the first execution, 38-year old Clayton Lockett was declared unconscious by a physician. According to CNN, Lockett sat up and tried to speak 16 minutes into his execution. He was seen to be writhing or convulsing on the gurney, and about 20 minutes into the process, his vein "exploded," executioners said, causing them to halt the process. At that point, guards closed the windows so the witnesses could no longer see what was happening. 43 minutes into the process, Lockett apparetly suffered a massive heart attack and died.
The legal battle centered around a prisoner's right to know the source of the drugs to be used to execute him or her. A stay on Lockett's execution was lifted last week when a judge ruled that there was no such right. After last night's experience, executions are again on hold in OK for at least 2 weeks.
The plan was to render Lockett unconscious with midazolam, then stop his breathing (and all muscular activity) with the paralytic drug vercuronium bromide, then stop his heart with potassium chloride.
What could have gone wrong? Of course, I wasn't there, and can't speak with certainty, but here are two possibilities.
Benzodiazepines like midazolam can rarely have paradoxical effects: a drug that usually renders one deeply sedated and relaxed, and has anti-convulsant properties, can cause agitation, anxiety, aggression, talkativeness, rage, violent behavior, and delirium, often states not recalled by the patient upon recovery. The midazolam dose used for sedation is much lower than that used for execution, but since Mr. Lockett's vein "exploded," it's unclear what dose he actually received, or, from the information given, what his actual state of consciousness was. The effects of midazolam can be reversed with Flumazenil, (a benzodiazepine-receptor antagonist) but did the executioner have a reversal agent on hand? Reversal of midazolam with Flumazenil can cause seizures. When the execution was stopped, efforts were made to resuscitate Lockett, but details aren't clear.
In a news release yesterday, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ announced its lawsuit protesting North Carolina's law prohibiting same-sex marriage, claiming that the state is violating ministers' religious liberty.
As I (a non-lawyer!) understand it, since it is a crime for ministers to officiate at a marriage without making sure the couple has a marriage license, barring same-sex couples from getting licenses restricts the ministers' freedom of religion. Here's the explanation from the press release:
In 2012, North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, which limited a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman. Under state laws consistent with Amendment One, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn’t obtained a license, and such a license may not be issued to same-gender couples. ...The UCC believes that this prohibition and penalties also apply to a minister performing a religious ceremony not intended to result in a legal marriage.
The UCC has embraced marriage equality since 2005, but of course the UCC doesn't stand alone on this. Plaintiffs in this case include "three UCC ministers, two Unitarian Universalist clergy, one Lutheran pastor, one Baptist minister, and one rabbi," along with the couples they married. A number of Christian denominations and other religious groups now allow same-sex marriage, so the question of religious liberty is an important one.
I would imagine that the crux of the legal issue here is the last sentence of the block quotation above: does the law apply to a religious ceremony that isn't intended as a legal marriage?
In the same Corriere della Sera/La Nación interview referenced in Mollie's post below, Francis struck an ambiguous note on the topic of same-sex civil unions. Here's NCR's Joshua McElwee:
Asked about same-sex marriage, he responds: "Marriage is between a man and a woman."
"The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of living together, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, like ensuring health care," he states, saying he can't identify the ways different countries are addressing the matter.
"We need to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety," he states.
HuffPo reports on the same interview, including a brief overview of the good news and the not-so-good news from Francis on civil unions:
While he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010 and Argentina was on the brink of legalizing gay marriage, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio support legalizing civil unions as a compromise. He also called same-sex marriage “an attempt to destroy God’s plan” and said gay adoption was a kind of discrimination against children. LGBT rights organizations and gay Catholics have hailed Francis' for making more positive statements on gay people during his papacy.
American folk music icon Pete Seeger passed away at 94, reports the New York Times. Money quote:
“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”
Here’s an update on the practice of capital punishment in the US.
The objection of European Union and American drug companies to the use of the anesthetic sodium thiopental for capital punishment has caused a scramble for new means of killing people “cleanly.” The 3-drug protocol (usually sodium thiopental, the muscle paralytic pancuronium bromide and the heart-stopping potassium chloride,) was the most common technique for capital punishment in the US until 2010. The problem is that sodium thiopental is a commonly used anesthetic. Hospira, the only US company that manufactured the drug, was unable to assure authorities at the manufacturing site in Italy that the drug would not be used for capital punishment, so it stopped production in 2011. As supplies dwindled, last-minute sources were tried, one being a British company called Dream Pharma, run from a driving school in west London, but eventually these sources too were shut down.
Oklahoma was the first of several states to switch to pentobarbital, a drug commonly used for euthanasia by veterinarians, and sometimes used for physician assisted suicide in Oregon. Pentobarbital is made by the Danish company Lundbeck, which rapidly ran into the same legal and ethical objections raised against the use of sodium thiopental. Even when Lundbeck sold manufacturing rights to Texas-based Akorn, Inc., they did so stipulating that they would follow the same distribution restrictions that Lundbeck had--no pentobarbital for executions.
What's an executioner to do?
In response to a call from Pope Francis for a "new theology of women," I invited people to nominate books to send to the Holy Father. Then, people were asked to vote for their top 10 of the more than 60 nominated. Here are the results (There are more than 10 books here because of a tie for 10th):
Johnson, Elizabeth. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 2002.
Farley, Margaret. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.
Here's Tracy Chapman performing at the 1988 London concert celebrating Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Mandela would be released from prison 2 years later. It strikes me as a great song both for remembering Mandela and for the season of Advent, when we anticipate that God will cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly. And that revolution sounds like a whisper...
A while back, I asked you to suggest books that might be sent to Pope Francis as helpful resources for his call for a "new theology of women." You made LOTS of excellent suggestions. I've turned them into a SurveyMonkey survey, and here's your chance to vote for the final 10. Vote for your favorite 5-10, and one vote per person, please. It's a long list, so read through before you vote!
Pope Francis has suggested that "we" need a deeper "theology of women," (itself a problematic phrase, emblematic of the usual us-them in which women are "them.") But he seems like a genuinely nice guy who's sincere about wanting to explore new territory. So, here's my idea...
Of course there are any number of books that could help Francis begin to sort out his ideas in this regard. Let's send him a starter set.
What are, say, 10 books that could help Francis in his revision of the Church with regard to women?
For much of recent history, (say, 30 or 40 years,) if you asked random people on the street what the Catholic Church teaches, you'd likely get a pretty short list: no contraception, no women in authority, no abortion, no remarriage after divorce (without annulment,) no marriage for priests, no gay sex, and (more recently,) certainly no same-sex civil marriage. These teachings had become a tidy para-creed often used to label those of us who quibbled with any of these items "heretics."