By Hannah Irvin
As the Alabama department of corrections draws closer to the completion date for the new gas chambers, I am reminded of Governor Kay Ivey’s 2019 statement that “every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” This statement is an interesting one that must come with a lot of strings attached. Nine individuals have been executed since Ivey became governor in 2017, so I guess not every life is a gift, only some.
The gas chambers are intended to use nitrogen gas to cause “hypoxia,” which means a deprivation of oxygen in the body. In any other context, we would call it “suffocation.” Proponents claim the method will be more humane than lethal injection, a concern that quite conveniently coincides with a short supply of the lethal injection drugs.
Last year, I joined a large group of people who called the state capital to demand that Nathaniel Woods’s execution be stayed, because there was no evidence to convict him of murder. In fact, another individual had pled guilty of the murder, defending Woods’s innocence, and Woods maintained his innocence for the duration of his imprisonment. Ivey defended her decision to allow the execution to proceed because “There is no evidence, and no argument has been made, that Nathaniel Woods tried to stop the gunman from committing these heinous crimes.” If being unable or unwilling to interfere when crime is being committed is, itself, a crime, then every officer who stands by while innocent people are killed by police are also guilty of murder.
This would include Vince Cunningham, a Hoover police officer responsible for returning a gun to Jason McIntosh, who had his firearm taken after shooting his wife in the arm during a domestic dispute. After the gun was returned, McIntosh then shot and killed his wife.
McIntosh is now serving a hefty sentence in prison while Cunningham, from the lack of evidence otherwise, can be assumed remains with the police department.
If innocent men like Nathaniel Woods are executed solely for not stopping a crime, one can conclude that Cunningham should also be executed, since he directly enabled a murder. However, in keeping with the idea that “every life is precious,” it would be much better if neither men were executed, nor anyone else.
Of the eleven states with the highest execution rates since 1976, nine have Republican governors and many have histories of right-wing governments. I only bring up political party because Republican candidates often run on heavily pro-life platforms, so the irony of having high execution rates is significant.
The top execution rate states include Republican-led Arizona, whose recently refurbished gas chambers are planning to implement hydrogen cyanide, the same chemical used in Auschwitz and other concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed legislation in April of this year expanding anti-abortion legislation, with the quote, “There’s immeasurable value in every single life — regardless of genetic makeup.” Yet it’s genes alone that condemned over six million Jews to death less than eighty years ago. Whether the decision to use hydrogen cyanide was intentionally symbolic or an unfortunate coincidence is irrelevant. It’s contemptuous to victims, survivors, and ancestors of those affected by the Holocaust to replicate those events in any way.
Pro-life legislators repeatedly reveal their hypocrisy by pushing for strict anti-abortion policies on the platform of every life having value, then turning around and allowing executions to continue. They blatantly ignore their constituents who plead for mercy on behalf of the condemned. Now, they are actively pushing for new methods of execution.
I have heard pro-life advocates defend their position on the death penalty by using the logic that unborn children are innocent and those executed are not. However, there is strong evidence that many victims are innocent of the crimes they are condemned for. In addition, these legislators are often pro-life because of their Christian religion. In keeping with that line of thought, I examined the Bible and found Romans 3:10-12, which states, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
In addition, the Bible also says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). To execute someone for committing murder sounds like “being tempted” to me. Perhaps “restoring them gently” could be rehabilitation instead of blatantly ending their lives.
In John 8, Jesus says to the religious leaders, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone,” then turns to the accused and says, “I do not condemn you.” Later in John, Jesus tells those who followed him, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Executing those created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1-2, 9:6) does not reflect that love in any way.
The legislators who protect unborn children at the expense of the well-being of women while simultaneously signing legislation that kills adult human beings with the potential for rehabilitation need to carefully examine their motivation. If you are pro-life, be pro-every-life. You do not get to choose one kind of life over another. If every life has value, so do the lives on death row.