A blog produced by the Oregon Justice Resource Center discussing the death penalty (capital punishment) in Oregon and in the Ninth Circuit.
The Oregonian’s editorial “Time to let Haugen die” (Aug. 7) provides a review of the Gary Haugen saga. I take exception, however, both to the title and to the conclusion. The title frames the issue — inappropriately in my view — as a question of Haugen’s “right to die.” Oregonians have compassionately provided such a right to those whose lives are being artificially prolonged and to terminal patients under carefully defined circumstances. Haugen falls into neither category, and framing the issue in this way obscures what is really at stake. A more frank and accurate title for the editorial would be “Oregon should kill Gary Haugen now.”
So what is the rationale for this position?
The writer assumes that Judge Timothy Alexander’s decision settles the issue legally. It doesn’t. In reality, his opinion is based on an archaic 1833 U.S. Supreme Court doctrine that was rejected by that court in 1927. Because the doctrine, concerning the effectiveness of a governor’s clemency order, found its way into decisions of the Oregon Supreme Court, Alexander felt compelled to follow it.
The issue is a serious one of constitutional law and deserves to be reconsidered by the Oregon Supreme Court. It’s not “too bad” that the governor may appeal, and it’s far from a “bizarre sideshow.”
The writer also appears concerned about the cost to taxpayers of the governor pursuing such an appeal. That cost, however, is minuscule compared with the millions of taxpayer dollars spent every year pursuing death sentences, and it is probably substantially less than the cost of conducting Haugen’s execution.
Like the rest of his companions on death row, Haugen was condemned to die for committing horrific murders. He’s not a sympathetic figure. What distinguishes him from them, however, and the reason he’s front-page news, is that he is “cool” with being executed. The bottom line for the editorial is a mere guess that it’s “cool” with most Oregonians, too.
For me, and I expect for other readers, there’s something unsettling both about giving Haugen so much publicity and about acceding to his death wish. It raises issues both of his mental competence and of who is in control of determining the appropriate punishment for his crimes. Under these circumstances, I couldn’t “pull the trigger” (or push the syringe) and therefore don’t support my government doing it either.
Oregon deserves a serious debate on the death penalty, and Gov. John Kitzhaber has invited us to have it. Besides the issue of morality, upon which good and decent people differ, there are important practical questions to consider:
– Is it effective to deter murder?
– Does it keep us safer than life in prison with no possibility of parole?
– Are we certain we will never execute an innocent person?
– Is it fairly imposed, i.e., are only the worst of the worst sentenced to death?
– Are the millions we spend on it a good use of tax dollars?
Since the answer to all these questions may well be “No,” let’s accept Kitzhaber’s invitation and consider them carefully.
Gary Haugen can wait.
David McNeil is a retired attorney and a member of the board of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.