Could angry teenagers, psychopaths and terrorists become productive members of society?

Anyone who's ever faced the unpleasant task of having to put a pet down may have a hard time understanding why lethal injection is such a big deal. The last time I had to make that dreaded trip, as I watched my cancer-ridden compadre exhale his last, the one thought penetrating my grief was, boy, when my number's up, I hope somebody gives me a syringe full of that stuff.

Yet according to a recent New York Times Magazine, it doesn't work that way when it comes to inmates on death row. All because that namby-pamby American Medical Association takes the "do no harm" clause of the Hippocratic oath seriously. Doctors, it insists, are not supposed to kill people.

As a result, lethal injection is often performed by undertrained or underqualified personnel who fuck it up.

They miss veins, underdose or combine chemicals meant to be kept separate. In addition, while a veterinarian will simply use a large dose of Sodium Pentothal to send Rover to the next world, executioners administer a second chemical which paralyses the diaphragm, and a third caustic agent to stop the heart. If too little of drug No. 1 is given, the condemned dies an excruciating death by suffocation and internal searing.

This is all extremely nasty. But I think the root of the problem lies in the fact that most normal people don't want to kill other people. The death penalty may be mandated by an abstract entity called The State, but in the end, it's Joe Schmoe who winds up pushing the plunger, and as with the petulant kid who does a half-assed job washing the dishes, the end results are sometimes less than sparkling.

As a former phlebotomist (one of the 867 jobs I have held at one time or another), there is one thing that I, along with millions of junkies worldwide, know for sure: Hitting a vein is not all that hard. Clearly, it's not mechanics, but mentality that's getting in the way of well-executed deaths. And the problem could be solved very easily.

All it would take is assigning the task of killing people to individuals who actually like to do it. There are plenty of them out there. Maybe instead of castigating and imprisoning them, as a society, we should help them channel their impulses through gainful employment as executioners. The following is only a partial list of possible job candidates.

1. Really angry teenagers. It started with Harris and Klebold at Columbine, but just a couple of days ago, an angry teenager shot up a shopping mall in Salt Lake City, killing five people and wounding a bunch more. Who knows why he was so pissed off? Parents didn't love him? He was molested by his moldy old grandpa? Subclinical oxygen deprivation to the moral center of his brain on his way down the birth canal all those years ago? Clearly, we'll never know. But one thing's for sure: The kid was a good shot. His skill could have been utilized in any one of the many execution chambers throughout the country. Indeed, if his talents had been recognized at an early age and nurtured just a little, not only could he have been gainfully employed, but allowed to let off a little steam.

2. Psychopaths. In case anyone hasn't figured it out by now, the world is rotten with psychopaths. Most of them fly just under the radar, finding employment in high finance, politics or teaching high school, but some simply can't catch a buzz from anything less than extinguishing life. Granted, except for those in a few parts of the deep South, penitentiaries have no use for cannibalism these days, but if someone like Jeffrey Dahmer had been offered an alternate outlet for his homicidal mania, who knows how many innocent people would be walking the Earth today uneaten? What if Dahmer had worked a day job? Is it possible he may never have crossed into the realm of torture and murder, and simply remained another weirdo rubbing up against adolescent boys in train stations?

3. Terrorists. Whether it's the ETA, the IRA or al-Qaida spouting hatred disguised as political ideology, the real reason terrorists kill people is because they like to. Who knows why? Inherent psychopathy? Hearts ruined by too much violence and loss? It doesn't matter for our purposes here. Just imagine going into some ravaged Palestinian community and announcing a lottery where the winner gets to push the plunger on some big, ugly white guy like Tim McVeigh. Think of the excitement and the anticipation. Scores of angry young men--perhaps future suicide bombers--would be lining up in droves to buy tickets. Just the tiniest glimmer of hope that they might be chosen could be enough to keep them from detonating themselves amidst a whole trainload of innocent people. Dozens, maybe hundreds of lives could be saved.

Hope's a powerful thing, and as we all know, it's easier to get up in the morning if there's something to look forward to.

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