When the cure is crazy

November 29, 1990|By Newsday

IN THE grim annals of death row, this is a scenario too grotesque for fiction: The state of Louisiana is trying to force a condemned murderer to take anti-psychotic drugs so that he will become sane enough to be strapped into the electric chair.

The state's argument is that the inmate, who became psychotic after he was placed on death row, poses enough of a danger to himself to warrant forcing him to take anti-psychotic drugs. The ultimate rationale is that the man might even try to commit suicide before the state can execute him.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court, which is increasingly inclined toward capital punishment, was baffled enough by this case to send it back to the Louisiana courts for reconsideration.

There is a legal contradiction in this bizarre case. The Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the Constitution barred states from putting to death prisoners who are declared insane. And the Supreme Court also ruled last year that prisoners had a limited constitutional right to refuse to take mind-altering drugs.

The question hinges on the limitations spelled out by the court. If a prisoner is deemed to pose a danger to himself or others, the court ruled, he may be forced to take mind-altering drugs.

In this case, the state argues that the prisoner poses a risk to himself. In other words, he could harm or even kill himself before he can be put to death.

This is a degrading bit of sophistry that puts the capital punishment issue into a sordid light. Are we so bloodthirsty that we must resort to such debased logic? This case proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that capital punishment should have no place in a society that calls itself civilized.

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