Aren't there non-painful ways to do capital punishment?

Prologue, not the question:
It seems that every form of capital punishment that’s become official includes some form of suffering.

Many attempts have been made to try and make the end “swift and sure” and avoid long suffering.

These humanitarian attempts all had critics.
The broad-ax sometimes took a second chop.
The trap-door noose with knot set to break the neck sometimes wouldn’t.
The guillotine was said to produce heads that twitched for a minute.
Firing squads sometimes were less than instantaneous in effect.

And nowadays:
The gas chamber is said to be horribly painful, with blood coming out of eyes and foam out of the mouth.
Same with electrocution.
Lethal injection is now suspected of producing a “paralytic stupor” where the prisoner is awake and aware but unable to move, and might feel intense pain but not be able to signal it.

So, the list is long of attempts to make the process either painless or at least quick enough to reduce suffering time.

Finally, the question:

Can’t we use those naturally occurring processes that accidentally kill people?
Wouldn’t they be easy, cheap, and obviously less painful?
Every day someone dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, the “quiet killer” of people who grill indoors.
And likewise the faulty gas leak overcoming whole households.
And divers who don’t realize their mix of of gasses is too light on oxygen and simply pass out
And kids who inhale too much helium without taking a breath of air.

Aren’t all those painless, serene deaths, without the problems stated above?

Carbon monoxide can give you a wicked headache. (It probably ends when you die.)

I’d guess that, despite the twitching problem, the guillotine has to be the quickest, and therefore least painful, method. Let’s bring it back.

Well, yes, I’m sure there are painless methods of execution. But as they say in Texas, “where’s the fun in that”?

How about packing the head in dynamite and setting it off? That would have to end the suffering fairly quickly.

Also, wouldn’t exsanguination be fairly painless if done properly? A quick shot of anaesthetic and then open a tap in an artery, and they’ll be gone in a few minutes.

Actually, here in California they have a plan which is close to approaching this ideal. Convicts on death row are put into little 5 X 7 chambers and they stay there until they die of old age.

Gradually increasing concentrations of Carbon Dioxide. (Over ten minutes)

You go to sleep. You don’t wake up. No one else is endangered, as long as everyone else on the ground floor building at the time has Oxygen masks, and then you just blow air through the place an hour later. The room doesn’t even have to be air tight, just fairly snugly caulked. The doctor can go in and take vital signs without risk, with a portable oxygen supply. He pronounces the guy dead, everyone goes home, and you leave the guy in the room for as long as you want, before autopsy.

Very simple, very safe, very clean, and you can even sit and watch from across the bars in a well designed below ground death chamber.


The problem is that the way the OP is phrased the answer has to be ‘No’.

The OP has ruled out the guillotine because it the head twitches, the gas chamber because the criminal vomits and lethal injection because it can’t be proven that the victim doesn’t feel pain.

The OP basically rules out anything that’s messy and anything that can’t be proven not to be painful. Well that’s evreything. We can reach a logical decision that something like strapping 5 kg of C4 to someone’s forehead and detonating it will be painless, but it’s messy. However because nobody comes back from death we can never know for sure that it’s not painful.

We can take testimony form people who have passed out and almost died of slow carbon monoxide poisoning or barbituate overdose and they all tell us it’s quite painless, but that’s the same story as lethal injection or gas chamber. We can never prove that aa lethal application is painless because no one can come back and tell us. But to the extent that we can ever collect evidence most of the techniques used are quite painless including gassing, beheading, lethal injection and firing squad.

A bullet to the back of the head seems to work well for the Chinese. I recall reading comments by people who’ve been shot in the head that they don’t remember the sound of a gunshot and they felt only a warm feeling in their heads prior to blacking out. Given that the brain itself feels no pain, and that a powerful enough gun would destroy the brain so thoroughly and instantaneously that scalp and skull pain wouldn’t be felt, thereby producing a quick and instantaneous death.

What about people who were recusitated from the water? Do any of them complain about drowning being painful?

Holding your breath for an extended amount of time can become pretty painful, so… that’s part of why I think drowning would be such a crappy way to die.

Don’t we have high-tech gadgets (EEG, SQUID, MRI, etc) that can determine whether the subject is feeling pain?

BTW I find it very hard to believe that CO2 is painless. Have you ever experienced suffocation, e.g. from a plastic bag on your head? It feels horrific. I also happen to know that oxygen deprivation (e.g. breathing pure nitrogen) produces a wicked headache well before you lose consciousness. What’s the evidence that a slower increase in CO2 is less painful?

I don’t know about that, Kozmik, but my cousin got tangled up in the rope while water skiing once: he tumbled and got the rope wrapped around his neck and nearly drowned before the people in the boat (his parents and a couple of their friends who were visiting instead of watching him) noticed that he was in trouble. He said that he was in a panic at first and then the most wonderful, calm, peaceful feeling came over him. His body was thrashing and flailing all around but he felt nothing but calm, serene happiness. He told me once that he’d almost be willing to die just to experience that feeling again.

My dad had the exact same experience as a child. Said it was one of the most peaceful moments he’s ever had, which is kind of jarring in and of itself.

Oh yeah. Most commonly they describe burning lungs and a massive pressure headache. Some people apparently do feel the calm feeling that Starving Artist describes, but by no means all.

Not readily. The trouble is that those things measure change sin brain electrical activity or blood flow. Death will inevitably cause changes in those things but that doesn’t signify pain. As an obvious analogy grand mal seizures also show massive changes in brain activity but are generally painless. The trouble is that the brain doesn’t have a ‘pain centre’ that we can look at and say that since it’s activated the patient feels pain.

I think you missed the key point of Triskadecamus’ post here. Gradually increasing concentrations of Carbon Dioxide. Not rapid suffocation from being deprived of oxygen. And the reason we know it’s painless is the reason we know most of these things are painless, because people who are revived recall no pain. It’s not uncommon for people to light fires in confined spaces and die from gradually increasing CO2 levels, or for that matter people who are found burned in their beds in house fires. If the technique doesn’t rouse a catnapping person or simply puts someone watching TV to sleep never to move again we can pretty safely say it’s painless as far as we can ever judge that.

I think Triskadecamus’s idea isn’t oxygen deprivation, just upping the concentration of CO2 gradually. High concentrations of CO2 make people pass out, whether or not there’s enough oxygen present. In Lost Moon (later adapted into the movie Apollo 13), Jim Lovell writes about when he and his fellow astronauts were building the jerry-rigged CO2 filter for the lander unit, because the lander’s unit was overloaded and no longer working; the concentration of CO2 in the air was getting towards 15%, at which point people pass out. He doesn’t describe a choking sort of thing, more a logy, stupid feeling.

I thought the “suffocation” feel was caused by CO2 buildup in the bloodstream, not oxygen deprivation? Being suffocated in a plastic bag feels very different from simple oxygen deprivation.

Fair enough, though one could argue that if you don’t recall pain, it doesn’t necessarily mean you weren’t feeling pain at that time. IIRC there’s a drug that prevents the subject from remembering a painful experience, used for painful medical procedures that require the patient to be conscious.

I don’t understand why they don’t just use nitrogen. It puts 'em to sleep right quick, and it’s totally painless, since there’s no CO2 buildup in the bloodstream. And the gas itself is non-toxic…after all, IT’S AIR. 70% of our atmosphere is nitrogen.

Plus, you can still use the body as an organ donor afterwards, something you can’t do with lethal injection.

Perhaps I’m the bad guy, but I don’t see the comfort of a capital offense convicted individual worthy this bandwidth.

The feeling of suffocation is indeed largely caused by CO2 buildup, or more strictly acid buildup. However being suffocated with a plastic bag is simple oxygen deprivation. That’s what kills you. A plastic bag isn’t somehow impermeable to CO2 yet permeable to oxygen, and even if it was the net effect would be the same since CO2 levels would rapidly build up and exclude all oxygen.

In brief the body regulates oxygen levels in the blood not by reading the amount of oxygen but by reading how much acid the CO2 has produced. In a normal atmosphere those are two sides of the same coin since the gases are at equilibrium in a healthy person. When you lose access to the air CO2 levels in the blood rapidly rise signalling trouble and that is experienced as pain. It’s the same whether that’s caused by sticking your head in plastic bag or filling your lungs with water.

The tricky part is though that if you increase the CO2 levels gradually and never let them get to high no response is triggered. The brain suffers oxygen deprivation and gradually shuts down leading to drowsiness and death but the aid levels never get high enough to trigger any suffocation response because CO2 is still being eliminated form the blood.

I can’t remember what it is but from Gila B’s post it seems it’s around 15%. The trouble with sticking your head in aplastic bag is that the CO2 levels rapidly hit 100%. That’s painful because it makes it impossible to eliminate CO2 from the blood leading to that whole acidi9fcation and pain response.

Yep, and I made exactly that point in my first post. The OP is phrased in pretty much those terms, which means that the answer is an unambiguous “No”.

Because nobody ever comes back form the dead to tell us we can never be certain that any death is painless. As I said above, I can strap explosive to someone’s forehead and vapourise their skull instantaneously. To me that has to be painless, but by the standards that have been set in the OP we can never actually know it’s painless any more than we can know that CO2 overdose or barbituate overdose is painless. All the evidence says it’s painless but we can never know it’s painless at that last moment.

It’s pretty damn semantic argument IMO.

You’re the bad guy for single handedly turning what was a factual discussion into a debate on your personal opinion.