UCL host Inter-University Amicus Debate on the Death Penalty

By Anushree Mehta 

On 12th November teams from King’s College London (KCL) and University College London (UCL) debated the motion “This House Requires Countries Opposing the Death Penalty to Sanction Pharmaceutical Companies that Provide Lethal Injection Drugs”. While the proposition (KCL) presented a strong argument that excessive harm caused by the lethal drugs should lead to the sanctioning of the private sector, the opposition (UCL) won the competition, arguing that the proposition’s methods would be ineffective and could lead to undesirable consequences.

It was unanimously agreed that the death penalty is inherently wrong.

The UCL team argued that sanctioning the private sector only tackles one symptom of injustice, not the root cause – which is the death penalty itself. Only a tiny fraction of the fifty-six countries that still impose the death penalty do in fact use lethal injection drugs (6/56). Therefore, it would be better if organisations such as Amicus and Amnesty International used their resources to protest against the death penalty as a whole.

KCL argued in favour of sanctions on the pharmaceutical sector, suggesting that such actions would constitute a deterrent to those companies continuing to supply drugs used in executions. They argued that this would create a domino effect, as the resulting lack of availability of death penalty drugs would cause the imposition of the death penalty to become increasingly impractical. Sanctions would also create further pressure on other states to conform to international human rights norms against the death penalty. By placing pressure on private sector drugs providers, the government would be forced to reconsider its approach to the death penalty as a whole. Furthermore, the KCL team argued that where excessive harm is caused through sedation and paralysis, the provider of the execution drugs should be liable in principle to criminal sanction.

The UCL team argued that if the ‘three drug cocktail’ which has been designed by medics to minimise the suffering of those convicted is banned, countries would nevertheless compensate by resorting to other methods of execution. These other methods could prove even more inhumane than the use of lethal injections – ranging from burning a person alive to the use of firing squads. In Saudi Arabia for example, reducing the use of lethal injection drugs would not lead to reduced rates of execution. Instead, it would lead to the increasing use of even more barbarous methods of executions, including beheadings.

Given the potential for these inadvertent consequences, the UCL team argued that it would be more beneficial for organisations to continue lobbying for the abolition of the death penalty. The impact of this approach, it was argued, has resulted in the progressive abolition of the death penalty across a greater number of US states, the increased stringency of laws in Iran, and the decreased number of crimes punishable by death in China.

With public support for the death penalty in decline globally, the lethal injection crisis may be one more indicator that capital punishment no longer aligns with our evolving standards of decency. Hence, the argument which won the day was that organisations and individuals should continue to advocate against the death penalty, as opposed to focussing on one fragment of the broader issue.

On behalf of the UCL amicus team we want to thank everyone who attended, in addition to the teams who both put on spirited performances in support of their respective motions. To keep in touch with the latest events from UCL amicus make sure to follow our facebook and instagram pages, and we hope to see you at our future events!

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