Hanging In India: Letter To A Prison Doctor #deathpenalty


By N. Jayaram

 

19 February, 2013
Countercurrents.org

Dr Vasant Yamakanmaradi, medical officer of the Central Prison, Hindalga (Belgaum), said the four convicts are both mentally and physically healthy. “We have been regularly conducting their health check-up to ensure they are fit to be executed,” he said. “All convicts have been informed about their execution.” (1)

The jail authorities began preparations for the executions after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the mercy petitions of Veerappan’s brother Jnanaprakash, Bilavendra, Simon and Meesekar Madaiah last week.

Dear Dr Yamakanmaradi,

Assuming that you’re accurately quoted – and it is mostly likely you have been as another newspaper has also done so while spelling your name differently, it is good to know that you have been checking the health of the four convicts regularly. (2)

I wonder whether you have also been talking to the convicts doctor. Do you talk to them as just living beings that need to be kept alive until the Indian state can snuff out their lives?

Or do you see them as human beings – sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, friends, colleagues, carers of cows and dogs also perhaps? In other words as people – strange thought this – such as you and I? People who – if the criminal justice system got it right – were associated with a notorious gangster, who were caught, convicted, sentenced to death and spent more than eight years in prison, perhaps coming around to believing that their lives will be spared? In many of the shrinking number of countries that retain the death penalty, an eight-year wait would have led to commutation.

The four condemned in your prison claim to be innocent – and the best criminal justice systems in the world, including those in Europe and North America have thrown up numerous cases of miscarriages of justice.

Does it bother you that you might be helping in preparing to hang people who might well be telling the truth when they claim to be innocent? Or are do you believe Indian policemen and security forces always catch the right people and scrupulously adhere to the letter of the law? Surely you know of rampant encounter killings? If not, I invite you to read the reports of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Human Rights Law Network, the Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a host of other NGOs.

Have you read the famous essay, “A Hanging” by George Orwell, doctor? (3) It is not only one of the best essays in the English language, the subject of classroom study around the world. It is also a powerful record by a fine mind watching the process of a hanging under British colonialism. Here’s an excerpt, but I recommend reading the full version:

It was about forty yards to the gallows… At each step his muscles slid neatly into place, the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.

It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working — bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming–all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned – reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone–one mind less, one world less.

Have you taken the Hippocratic oath or a version thereof, doctor? (4) Perhaps you have a copy with you? Here is a reminder of three lines in the oath:

• Even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of Humanity.

• I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient.

• The health of my patient will be my first consideration.

NB: “…religion, nationality, party politics or social standing”. The Indian state has in recent months executed a Pakistani Muslim convicted of the 2008 Bombay attacks and a Kashmiri Muslim recently for his alleged role – never conclusively proven – in the 2001 Parliament attacks in New Delhi. The Supreme Court thought the death penalty for Afzal Guru was needed to satisfy the “collective conscience of the society”. The lives of Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and several others convicted of their role in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 were – rightly in the opinion of those opposed to the death penalty – spared by the good judge Jyotsna Yagnik. Do you, doctor, ask yourself why it is that the indigent, the minorities, the Dalits and the lower castes pack death row?

Do you think preparing prisoners, checking on their health, taking their pulse with the purpose of overseeing their death is in consonance with the oath you took when you entered the profession, doctor?

Perhaps you do believe in the rightness of the death penalty in some cases. But do you seriously think each of the hundreds now on death row in India deserves to die? Do go through an exceedingly well thought out essay by a leading surgeon and writer in the United States, who is of Indian origin, who does believe in the death penalty in certain cases. Dr Atul Gawande is the award-winning author of books such as Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science (2002), Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (2007) and The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2009).

In a March 2006 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “When Law and Ethics Collide – Why Physicians Participate in Executions”, he has noted that the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) and other professional bodies are opposed to doctors taking part in putting convicts to death. The ASA president is quoted as saying, “Physicians are healers, not executioners”. (5)

Again, an excerpt to whet your appetite:

In 1980 … the AMA passed a resolution against physician participation as a violation of core medical ethics. It affirmed that ban in detail in its 1992 Code of Medical Ethics. Article 2.06 states, “A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution,” although an individual physician’s opinion about capital punishment remains “the personal moral decision of the individual.” It states that unacceptable participation includes prescribing or administering medications as part of the execution procedure, monitoring vital signs, rendering technical advice, selecting injection sites, starting or supervising placement of intravenous lines, or simply being present as a physician. Pronouncing death is also considered unacceptable, because the physician is not permitted to revive the prisoner if he or she is found to be alive. Only two actions were acceptable: provision at the prisoner’s request of a sedative to calm anxiety beforehand and certification of death after another person had pronounced it.

The code of ethics of the Society of Correctional Physicians establishes an even stricter ban: “The correctional health professional shall… not be involved in any aspect of execution of the death penalty.” The American Nurses Association (ANA) has adopted a similar prohibition. Only the national pharmacists’ society, the American Pharmaceutical Association, permits involvement…

Perhaps you would say, “what can I do, orders are orders”? Harsh Mander, a former officer of the Indian Administrative Service who eventually went back to the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy in Mussoorie which trains civil servants, has written extensively about the right and duty of officials to dissent in the face of injustice. Have you read his columns in The Hindu and other newspapers, doctor? Just google them. Most instructive.

The Supreme Court has given a stay of execution until Wednesday and it is to be hoped the constitutionality of the practice will be considered afresh. You can then get back to the health of the four with a view to doing what your oath enjoined you to do – preserving them in good health, not participating in their death.

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes a blog: http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/ 

Notes

1. “ Belgaum jail awaits hanging orders for Veerappan aides” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Belgaum-jail-awaits-hanging-orders-for-Veerappan-aides/articleshow/18550276.cms

2. “Veerappan aides’ fate still hanging” http://www.deccanchronicle.com/130218/news-current-affairs/article/veerappan-aides-fate-still-hanging

3. “A Hanging” by George Orwell, http://www.george-orwell.org/A_Hanging/0.html . There is also an audio version http://thelongestchapter.com/tag/a-hanging/

4. Indian Medical Association: Medical Oath http://www.ima-india.org/IMA_medical_oath.html

5. “ When Law and Ethics Collide — Why Physicians Participate in Executions ” http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp068042

Monsanto’s 10 most misleading talking points on GMO labeling #mustread


 

By Michele Simon

Cross-posted from Appetite for Profit

Photo by Shutterstock.

The battle in California over Proposition 37, which would require labeling of foods containing GMOs, is really heating up. Millions of dollars are already being poured into the opposition campaign, with much of it going to former Big Tobacco shills. Over at GMO HQ, Monsanto recently posted this missive called “Taking a Stand: Proposition 37, The California Labeling Proposal,” in which the biotech giant explains why it is opposing the measure (to the tune of $4.2 million so far).

Even for a corporation not exactly known for its honesty and transparency, this brief webpage is riddled with deception and outright falsehoods about the initiative and its proponents. Here are the 10 most blatant examples:

1.  The law “would require a warning label on food products.”

No warning label would be required. Rather, the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering” would be required on the back of the package — similar to what is now required for ingredient or allergen labeling. For whole foods, like the sweet corn coming soon to a Walmart near you, a sign would be posted on the store shelf with the words “genetically engineered.” The aim is simply to offer consumers additional information about the contents of the foods they purchase.

2. “The safety and benefits of these ingredients are well established.”

Unfortunately, no long-term studies exist on either the safety or benefits of GMO ingredients, so Monsanto has no basis for making such a claim. Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not even require safety studies of genetically engineered foods. Meanwhile, some independent studies raise questions about links to allergies and other potential health risks.

3. “The American Medical Association just re-affirmed that there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

This statement, while true, is taken out of context and is misleading because the American Medical Association (AMA) also (for the first time) called for mandatory premarket safety studies of GMOs. As Consumers Union recently noted in its reaction to AMA’s announcement, labeling and testing logically go together:

The AMA’s stance on mandatory labeling isn’t consistent with its support for mandatory pre-market safety assessments. If unexpected adverse health effects, such as an allergic reaction, happen as a result of GE, then labeling could perhaps be the only way to determine that the GE process was linked to the adverse health effect.

4. Food companies “have had the choice” to use GM ingredients.

Choice is a good thing; however, consumers have never had the choice. Prop 37 will give consumers a long-overdue choice about eating genetically engineered food.

5. “FDA says that such labeling would be inherently misleading to consumers.”

Of course FDA refuses to require GMO labeling, thanks to Monsanto’s arm-twisting that began more than 20 years ago. Food Democracy Now’s Dave Murphy explained the FDA decision in May upon its 20-year anniversary, which came as a result of a broader deregulatory push by the first Bush administration:

Twenty years ago this week, then-Vice President Dan Quayle announced the FDA’s policy on genetically engineered food as part of his “regulatory relief initiative.” As Quayle explained in the 1992 press conference, the American biotechnology industry would reap huge profits “as long as we resist the spread of unnecessary regulations.”

Dan Quayle’s 1992 policy announcement is premised on the notion that genetically engineered crops are “substantially equivalent” to regular crops and thus do not need to be labeled or safety tested. The policy was crafted by Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lawyer who was hired by the Bush FDA to fill the newly created position of deputy commissioner of policy.

Five years earlier, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush visited a Monsanto lab for a photo op with the developers of Roundup Ready crops. According to a video report of the meeting, when Monsanto executives worried about the approval process for their new crops, Bush laughed and told them, “Call me. We’re in the dereg businesses. Maybe we can help.”

Call they did. It’s typical for corporations to get their policy agenda approved through back-channel lobbying and revolving door appointments and then point to the magical policy outcome as evidence of scientific decision-making.

6. “Consumers have broad food choices today, but could be denied these choices if Prop 37 prevails.”

There is no basis in logic that consumers could be denied food choices. Indeed, Proposition 37 actually broadens the meaningful food choices available through greater transparency. Right now, people are eating in the dark.

7. “Interestingly, the main proponents of Proposition 37 are special interest groups and individuals opposed to food biotechnology who are not necessarily engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply.”

In fact, quite a large number of food producers, farmers, and others very much “engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply” support the campaign. (See the growing list of endorsements.) Speaking of “special interest groups” wouldn’t that label apply to the likes of Monsanto and all the industrial food producers who oppose Proposition 37?

8. “Beneath their right to know slogan is a deceptive marketing campaign aimed at stigmatizing modern food production.”

“Modern food production,” is that Monsanto’s latest euphemism for scientifically altering the genetic code of the food supply? In truth, nothing is hidden “beneath” the Right to Know campaign, that’s all it’s about. But because Monsanto has no good argument for why consumers don’t have the right to know how their food is produced, it has to resort to distracting deceptions.

9. “[Proponents] opinions are in stark contrast with leading health associations.”

Another look at the long list of Prop 37 endorsements reveal that Monsanto and friends are actually out of step with leading health associations, such as:

  • American Public Health Association
  • American Medical Students Association
  • American Academy of Environmental Medicine
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility, California chapters
  • California Nurses Association

10. “The California proposal would serve the purposes of a few special interest groups at the expense of the majority of consumers.”

Again, logic defies this talking point, especially since all polling indicates a “majority of consumers” want GMO food to be labeled. Indeed, the most recent California poll shows the proposition winning by a 3-to-1 margin. No wonder Monsanto has to resort to such nonsensical talking points.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. She is grateful to live in Oakland, Calif., within walking distance of a farmers market. You can follow her on Twitter.

 

How the “Pro-Life” Movement Puts Women Behind Bars


In Alabama, the claim that eggs, embryos and fetuses have separate legal rights has led to the jailing of 60 women.

Numerous organizations and leaders who identify themselves as pro-life have assured the public that their efforts to re-criminalize abortion and establish the unborn as separate legal persons will not result in the prosecution and imprisonment of women. Yet, in Alabama alone, the claim that eggs, embryos and fetuses have separate legal rights has provided the basis for arresting approximately 60 women.

These women are being prosecuted under Alabama’s 2006 law designed to provide special penalties for people who bring children into methamphetamine laboratories. Its official title is “Endangerment of Exposing a Child to an Environment in Which Controlled Substances are Produced or Distributed” and it provides that a person “commits the crime of chemical endangerment” by “exposing a child to an environment in which he or she…knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance.”

This law makes no mention of pregnancy, pregnant woman, drug use, fetus, or any other words that would make it applicable to a pregnant woman who uses a controlled substance and seeks to continue her pregnancy to term. In fact, the Alabama legislature has repeatedly refused to amend this law or to create others that would address the issue of pregnancy and drug use through the criminal law.

Nevertheless prosecutors have argued, and the Alabama’s Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed, that the word “child” in the statute includes a “viable fetus” and therefore may be used to arrest and jail women who become pregnant, eschew abortion, go to term, and try to bring life into this world, despite having used a controlled substance.

The Appeals Court decision reaches far beyond women who use illegal drugs or even drug use at all. Many prescription drugs are controlled substances and there is no defense under the law if the drug is prescribed to the pregnant woman. This means that a pregnant woman who is prescribed a controlled substance (and her doctor who prescribed it) are now potentially subject to criminal penalties as well. And, if the word “child” in one Alabama criminal laws means “viable fetus,” then surely it would have to mean the same thing in others – including the state’s child abuse and related laws. This means that women are potentially criminally liable for an unlimited range of actions, inactions or circumstances during pregnancy believed by police and prosecutors to pose a risk of harm to the fetus. (Think “personhood” measure in disguise.)

Hope Ankrom and Amanda Kimbrough are two of the 60 women who have been charged under the chemical endangering law – not for running meth labs or bringing children to them, but rather for continuing their pregnancies to term in spite of having a drug problem. Ankrom and Kimbrough have appealed their convictions to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Forty-seven medical, public health and legal advocacy groups and individuals, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Nurses Association filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of these mothers. They urge the court to reverse the lower court’s radical extension of the chemical endangering law to permit prosecution and punishment of new mothers, pregnant women, and their doctors.

These organizations and experts explain that while they do not in any way endorse the use of illegal drugs during pregnancy, medical consensus is that illegal drug use by pregnant women does not pose risks qualitatively different or greater than a wide range of other actions, inactions, exposures, and circumstances engaged in or experienced by pregnant women, such as smoking cigarettes.

Read more at Alternet

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