Hypothetical alternative to death penalty

I guess this is partly inspired by the movie Minority Report, and I apologize if it’s been done already. But I was wondering:

Say that medical science progresses to the point that it’s possible to induce a coma in a prisoner who would otherwise be sentenced to death (under current laws), and this coma is fully reversible. Would this constitute an acceptable alternative?

Would this not trump the major arguments against DP now, namely that the state doesn’t have the right to take away a life, and the potential injustice of applying DP to someone wrongfully convicted? Once all a prisoner’s appeals are done, and there’s no longer an issue of him assisting in his defence, he could be taken to the “coma chamber” rather than the death chamber. And if by some long shot some DNA or other future evidence exonerates him, then hey, wake him up.

And might not there also be a cost benefit to keeping a person on a perpetual feeding tube rather than maintaining extensive staff to feed, house, clothe, and maintain security around him?

Do you think this might actually emerge as an alternative punishment within our lifetimes?

Lil’ Slugger

I suspect it would quickly be labeled “cruel and unusual”, but I’d support it, unless it’s even more expensive than the current system. At least I’ll support it until someone smarter than I comes in to post the obvious things wrong with it that I’m not thinking of at the moment. :wink:

But then again, I’m not against the death penalty in theory, 'though I’m not always happy with how it’s applied (or not) in reality. So I may not be in the target audience for the alternative option.

Given as the person is essentially just asleep, it’s rather hard to say that it’s cruel. (Unusual, yes, but that would only be because it was a new technology.)

The main issue would be taking care of the body. You would need to keep it exercised and to keep it from developing any sores if it was always in contact with a bed or such. But assuming that the technology to do this encompassed those features, I don’t see any problems. (Though of course it would still be more expensive than offing the person.)

The person isn’t “essentially asleep.” He’s being denied, by the state, awareness. There’s also the little problem of him not being able to assist his lawyers. I’d say the plan is cruel.

And? How is that cruel? The death penalty is less cruel than forcing a person to live in solitary for the rest of their human life, and yet we accept both as humane. This is certainly kinder than life in solitary and has the same net effect of the death penalty in terms of the amount that the person is going to care after the operation is carried out. I.e. he isn’t going to care about anything in the slightest.

And how does it matter that the state is denying him of something? If you can find me a definition of “prison” where you aren’t denying someone something, I’ll be very impressed.

If you are sentenced to be executed, rehabilitation is already off the docket. So short of saying that any sort of sentance which isn’t wholely rehabilitative is cruel, there’s little room to argue that putting someone in a suspended state is in any way cruel. And history and popular wisdom is that jail is “okay” to be punitive, so it’s hard to make such a statement.

You wake him up.

I might. I’d need to know more details.

I think it’s almost impossible not to ‘fight the hypothetical’ on this one - otherwise the number and significance of things we’d have to simply accept as given* turn it into one of those hypotheticals that could almost be reduced to ‘If we could do things better, wouldn’t that be better?’

*(the technology exists, is safe, is reversible (and on demand), is cheap enough, is secure against abuse, etc)

If such technology existed then there would be a queue of people going for it, mainly those with illnesses that could be cured 10 to 100 years down the line.

It would be too good to waste on prisoners.

I don’t think that being put in a coma would halt the progress of very many illnesses, nor would it prolong the life of the patient. The topic here isn’t suspended animation - it’s just suspended consciousness.

Growing old without realizing it !
Might as well give them a chemical cosh and let them walk around zombified

  • get the mix right and they’ll be begging for their next fix

In your hypothetical the coma would probably be maintained by a prison guard who’s done a 6 week training course and has 50 coma prisoners to oversee. If he miscalculates then the prisoner could regain consciousness but remain paralysed and that state could persist for years. Imagine lying there, eyes closed, unable to move, unable to communicate, knowing that the end will only come when you die and that could be years away.


The idea amounts to a very very very slow execution.

I like it !
Let’s try it on Ian Brady.

Two words: Bed sores.

They’re what killed Christopher Reeves, remember. And he was getting, presumably, the best care money could buy! Prisoners, with all due respect to our own Qagdop the Mercotan, won’t have the same kind of resources available for the care needed to prevent that, I don’t think. Putting someone into an artificial coma is not going to be a ‘completely reversible’ process - it’s going to end up being a crap shoot, with some signifigant fraction of persons in such a condition dying from bed sores related complications after about a year, and for each year thereafter.

Then there’s the whole issue of muscle tone, memory and reflexes that would need retraining if such a condition were to be reversed. The Hollywood fiction of the years-long coma victim coming out and then going on to some kind of normal life, within a week of coming out of a years-long coma is just that: a fiction.

Bolts inserted into ankles, hips and shoulders, then suspend them from the ceiling on wires.

I don’t think so. It just substitutes the problem of the state depriving someone of life with the equally troublesome issue of the state depriving someone of consciousness, which is equivalent to life anyway.

No, for the practical reasons mentioned elsewhere.

I think you might have some infection issues with those insertion points. :dubious:

There’s this series of books – The Hyperion Cycle – which are set in the far future, and in which major criminals have their brains removed and put in little cases. The brains are kept alive and conscious, but are not given any stimulation. They go crazy, and they live forever.



As a proponent of the death penalty, while I agree with most of the arguments against this sort of alternative, I would argue against this for a completely different philosophical one.

One definition of justice, the one by which I operate, is “eye for an eye”; which I interpret as an equitable forfeiture of the convicted’s rights in a balance with the rights as violated of the victim(s). Further, in my opinion the right to life is the greatest of our rights, when the only equitable trade is one’s own right to life (for instance, in cases of murder), then the death penalty is the only just alternative. Thus, I, and others who believe as I do, would oppose this sort of alternative punishment on the grounds that it is not denial of the convicted’s right to life, thus it is not an equitable trade, and thus is not justice.

If I read you correctly, then you would advocate the death penalty for (say) involuntary manslaughter? In other words, you advocate death for any person who directly or indirectly, in the heat of the moment or with malice aforethought, causes another person to lose their life?

Back to the OP, however, I haven’t seen many arguments against this punishment except insofar as you have doubts regarding its implementation–e.g., would there be enough money to ensure we have skilled doctors on staff, or whether our technology ensures that the coma is reversible.

But I’d propose that the cost savings from not having to house and maintain security for the prisoner would more than offset the need for proper medical care. And as for the question of coming out of the coma, remember that ordinarily the prisoner isn’t meant to be brought out of the coma–it’s only a way of making sure there is some way to bring him back if exonerating evidence emerges years or decades later.

Since I can’t edit, I’ll clarify my point here in a followup post:

If this really represents your position, then it’s not really germane to this discussion at all–because the current death penalty doesn’t work this way. If you believe we should just “string 'em all up”, that’s very interesting, but doesn’t bear any relevance to this debate or to the real world for that matter.