Chinese Law Prof Blog

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George Washington University Law School

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Liu Renwen on death by lethal injection

According to the China Daily, by the end of 2009, all executions in China Beijing will be by lethal injection instead of the traditional gunshot. (I've previously blogged here and here on this issue.) Here, in translation courtesy of the Dui Hua Foundation, is an opinion piece by Prof. Liu Renwen of the CASS Institute of Law. Prof. Liu sees this as a step forward both because it's a more humane way of executing and because it marks, in his view, progress toward the eventual abolition of the death penalty.

I hesitate to criticize Prof. Liu, who is a consistent advocate for policies I tend to favor and is also a friend. But his opinion piece reflects a complete unawareness, which I am afraid is widespread in China, that there might be any problems with lethal injection that would make it less humane that a bullet in the back of the head. These problems have been the subject of extensive debate in the United States on the grounds, among other things, that it may inflict severe but undetectable pain (for materials, see here and here; a recent Supreme Court opinion on the issue is here; New York Times report here), and it's unfortunate that this side of the story does not seem to appear in China.

Various people have also told me - I have no way of knowing whether this is true - that lethal injection became popular not because it was more humane than shooting, but because it didn't result in blood spattering all over the place, which made those nearby worry about AIDS. The story has some plausibility, given that lethal injection got its start in Yunnan, where intravenous drug use, and therefore the HIV infection rate, is high.

UPDATE, 2 JULY 2009: I misread the China Daily piece; it speaks only of Beijing, not of China as a whole.

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