Life Expectancies and Lethal Injections

May 6, 2015
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Paving the Way

The Tao

Two stories converged unexpectedly in yesterday’s news. The first was an article in the New York Times discussing income inequality and shortened life expectancies. The other story came from the US Supreme Court. The Court heard arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case from Oklahoma about the drugs used for lethal injection executions.

Paving the Way

The Tao

Two stories converged unexpectedly in yesterday’s news. The first was an article in the New York Times discussing income inequality and shortened life expectancies. The other story came from the US Supreme Court. The Court heard arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case from Oklahoma about the drugs used for lethal injection executions.

Each story is dispiriting enough, but taken together they are deeply troubling. It seemed the right time to begin a series of short posts, “Paving the Way”, that will be sprinkled among the longer “Tao of Caring” articles.

Lao Tzu is said to have written the Tao Te Ching about 2,500 years ago. Lao Tzu’s existence is uncertain: some scholars believe he lived and others think the Tao was written by unnamed sages. The work has been translated into English many times over a few hundred years. Most translators accept “the way” or “the road” as the meaning of “tao.”

“Paving the Way” posts will shine light on news of the ways Americans care for and about each other. Or don’t.

Life Expectancy

Eduardo Porter’sEconomic Scene” column for the New York Times “…explores the world’s most urgent economic challenges.” It’s no surprise that the world’s urgent economic challenges are inextricably tangled in the world’s most intractable health problems. Porter’s column in the Times print edition, “Income Inequality Is Costing the U.S. on Social Issues”, skidded to the doormat yesterday morning. He cites depressingly familiar stats:babies

– The life expectancy of newborn American girls ranks 29th among the thirty-four countries that form the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

– Thirty-five years ago, we ranked 13th.

– American and German babies had roughly equal infant mortality rates in 1980. (The infant mortality rate is the number of babies who die before their first birthdays in a given year per 1000 live births.)

– Now twice as many American babies die as German babies.

– Our infant mortality is “driven by ‘excess inequality’”, Porter quotes from another research paper.

Lethal Injections

The Justices were arguing lethal injections as I read Porter’s column with morning coffee. (I’m in Mountain Time. Two hours behind DC. Fly-over land.) Glossip v. Gross focused on whether using a tranquilizer instead of a barbiturate in lethal injection cocktails was constitutionally permissible.

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Midazolam does not produce the same deep unconsciousness as sodium thiopental, so prisoners may feel agonizing pain when the other two drugs are injected. The oral argument began as a technical discussion of drug actions. The proceedings devolved to an angry outburst from Justice Samuel Alito, railing against death penalty “abolitionists.” Justice Antonin Scalia joined him, noting it is the abolitionists’ fault that more effective drugs are unavailable.lethal injection

Observers in the courtroom (here and here) came away feeling that the Justices were impatient with efforts to limit the death penalty. And the conservative block seemed hostile to interfering with states’ lethal injection procedures.

The Way

Oklahoma has the fourth highest infant mortality rate in the nation among non-Hispanic whites, the 19th highest among non-Hispanic blacks. Black Oklahomans rank 33rd in life expectancy, whites do worse at slot forty-eight.

Yet the people of Oklahoma are spending tax money defending suffering in the their death chamber while babies die in their delivery rooms. If Sooners weren’t so eager to execute folks, their life expectancies may rise.

Eduardo Porter thinks there’s hope. He believes the ills besetting us present an “existential threat” we can’t ignore. That our future is so bleak we must come together and cure what ails us.

I hope he’s right. I’m not optimistic. When our Supreme Court Justices advocate death and dismiss human suffering, the Way back will be hard to find.

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