Have We Forgotten What We Must Never Forget?
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I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
Sept1, 2013
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Correctional Chaplain Florida's Death Row & Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella,Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed and for seventeen years a Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults.

Have We Forgotten What We Must Never Forget?
By: Dale S. Recinella
Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida’s Death Row

The drug of choice for U.S. executions has been pentobarbital. But the actions by manufacturers to prevent the use of their medical products for killing people have created a supply problem for the killing states.

The following brief statements are based on summaries (with background articles and press releases) from the webpages of The Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC (“DPIC”): (†)

    • Lundbeck, Inc., maker of pentobarbital, imposed distribution restrictions to prevent its use in executions (July 1, 2011). With the subsequent transfer of pentobarbital manufacture from Denmark to the U.S.A., Akorn, Inc., a pharmaceutical company based in Lake Forest, Illinois, acquired the manufacturing rights for pentobarbital. According to the Associated Press, the "distribution system meant to keep the drug out of the hands of prisons will remain in place." (A. Welsh-Huggins, "Lundbeck Sells Pentobarbital Rights," Associated Press, December 21, 2011).

    • HIKMA, maker of phenobarbital, announced measures to keep their drug from being used in executions. (May 15, 2013).

    • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, a maker of the anesthetic propofol, has said it will establish procedures to prevent propofol from being sold to correctional facilities. (Bloomberg News, 3/21/13)

The few states that actually use the death penalty (just 14 states have accounted for more than 92% of all the executions since 1976) are scrambling to find drugs to kill people. We are witnessing a mass experiment by the killing states on how to kill citizens with chemicals.

The DPIC has reported on its webpage that: (†)

    • In August Missouri set 2 execution dates and announced it intends to use the drug propofol in these executions. This drug has never been used in the U.S. for this purpose. (Associated Press, 8/15/13)

    • Ohio announced it will use a new execution protocol beginning in November. It has been using pentobarbital. The new proposal may use a backup method, which involves two intramuscular injections of drugs never previously used in executions. (Associated Press, 8/15/13)

    • On August 1, Texas announced its supply of the lethal injection drug pentobarbital will expire in September, and the state is looking for a replacement drug. Texas has execution dates set through the remainder of the year and into 2014. The state has carried out half of the executions in the country in 2013. (Associated Press, 8/1/13).

    • In June, officials in California announced it would abandon its three-drug execution method and develop a new process. (Mercury News, 7/11/13).

    • Arkansas: Citing an inability to acquire phenobarbital, the Department of Correction announced that they will change the protocol to comply with a law passed this year stating that executions will involve "a barbiturate in an amount sufficient to cause death." (Arkansas News Bureau, 6/17/13).

    • Louisiana announced intentions to switch to a one-drug protocol of pentobarbital, beginning with an execution scheduled for Feb. 13. (Baton Rouge Advocate, 2/6/13).

    • Georgia apparently obtained drugs outside the state, but has passed a law making all information about executions a "state secret."

This entire process, right down to the notion of classifying the mechanics of state killing as “state secrets”—something more readily identified with North Korea and China than with America—is eerily reminiscent of our path to the worst human horror in history. In that case, the search for chemicals to kill people was for gas, not for intravenous fluids.

While it would be totally inappropriate to compare U.S. capital punishment to the horror of the Holocaust, we can learn a great deal from the historical record of compromises that paved the way for German medicine to become a killing machine. We need not follow the path to the ultimate genocide of the Holocaust in order to identify common threads between current efforts to use medicine for state killing and the German experience in doing so.

Is it possible that we have forgotten what we must never forget?

What Must We Never Forget? *

During Holy Week of 1997, my family toured Dachau, the infamous concentration camp where the Holocaust began. We viewed the films and the memoirs and paused prayerfully on the compound where hundreds had stood barefoot each day in the winter cold. The penalty for fainting was murder on the spot. Thousands died there after 1938. Mostly Jews. Also outspoken Catholic priests, the sick, the handicapped, and the unwanteds.

During the first Holy Week of the New Millennium, my wife, Susan, and I sit at home with our children, reflecting on the passing Lent and on the lives of our brothers and sisters in the mental hospital, the local jail and the state prisons. We speak of the Catholics in these institutions, our family in faith to whom our fellow parishioners and we bring the Eucharist. We talk about the dangers of letting people in institutions become invisible. The discussion turns to our memories of visiting Dachau and to the horrors of the Holocaust. My daughter leans forward to speak.

“Daddy, every time we study the Holocaust they tell us to never forget. What must we never forget?”

“The most obvious thing is the evil of anti-Semitism,” I respond. “The Holocaust was the destination of over a thousand years of enmity between Christians and Jews. We must never allow the seeds of such hatred ever again.”

“But there’s much more that we must not forget,” I continue, searching for words that will describe truths just beneath the surface. “Perhaps one of the most important forgotten truths is that the steps a society takes always lead in a direction. The step itself may not seem so bad. It may even seem good at the time. But we as Catholic Christians have a duty to ask where that step will lead in the long run.”

“What do you mean, Dad?”

“Let me give you an example. The first person murdered in Dachau wasn’t a priest. It wasn’t a Jew. It wasn’t anyone anybody cared about. It was a common, run-of-the-mill prisoner who was a criminal under the new laws passed to protect the public from crime in German society.”

“His name was Sebastian Nefzger. He was married. He was a Catholic. And during the night of May 25/26, 1933, he turned up dead. The camp doctor, Dr. Nuernbergk, certified that the cause of death was self-inflicted wounds. But the County Court doctor was skeptical. Because of other marks on the body, the Public Prosecutor ordered an autopsy. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation and murder charges were made against unknown offenders.”

“What happened, Daddy?”

“Nobody cared. Later in 1933, other crimes against camp inmates were revealed. More charges were brought. But nobody cared. Nothing happened. Finally, on November 29, 1933, the investigations were stopped by the state because the facts coming to light were making the government look bad. The leaders simply said that things were being handled internally. No one pursued it. No one cared.”

“Within a decade, in the very same place, the very same camp, thousands of people were being asphyxiated. They killed the mentally retarded. Killed the mentally ill. Killed the priests who spoke out. Killed the Jews and the Gypsies. Killed the old and the infirm. Promise me that you will never forget that.”

“What exactly, Dad?”

“The killing doesn’t start with the popular people. It starts with the people everyone is glad to be rid of. It starts with the ones no one likes or cares about. But once we kill them, it’s only a matter of time before it comes to the rest of us.”


(†) DPIC Website accessed September 13, 2013. © DPIC Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
*A portion of this article appeared in The Florida Catholic, April 27, 2000.


©2013 Dale S. Recinella
All rights reserved. No reuse without written permission.

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I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.

Your name and information will never be used or shared with anyone. We promise!

Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

If you Like this Monthly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
The Poor Clare Sisters
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from Amazon.com)

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.

This ezine edited by The Poor Clare Sisters of Spokane
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach