Penicillin and Animal Research

    The Seattle Post Intelligencer recently ran an excellent series of articles debunking a lot of animal rights myths about medical research. That didn’t stop one eighth grader at a local school from writing in to claim that penicillin kills guinea pigs. This claim is straight off of fact sheets (they should call them false sheets) by PETA and other groups. In a fact sheet titled “Drug Testing: Pain, Not Gain,” PETA claims that:

Penicillin would not be in use today if it had been tested on guinea pigs–common laboratory subjects–because penicillin kills guinea pigs.

    PETA doesn’t bother to cite the source of this claim (surprise), but it is actually based on a rather bizarre misreading of a study that examined the effects of prolonged exposure to very large doses of penicillin which does indeed tend to produce toxicity and death. Similar problems, however, occur with human beings who are exposed to very large doses of penicillin for long periods of time, and for much the same reason — in both the guinea pigs and human beings, the prolonged exposure to penicillin kills micro-organisms in the gut which creates a whole host of other problems.

    Leave it to the animal rights activists to claim that studies showing extremely high doses of penicillin administered for long periods of time can produce toxicity in guinea pigs means “penicillin kills guinea pigs.” They might as well say that if penicillin had been tested in human beings it never would have been approved because “penicillin harms human beings.”

    But the interesting thing, it turns out, is that penicillin was largely ignored for many decades after its initial discovery because it didn’t appear to have any beneficial effect in human beings. Only tests done in the first half of the century with mice finally convinced medical researchers that penicillin might have some broad benefits worth exploring.

    Dr. Robert Speth wrote a letter-to-the-editor outlining of the Seattle Post Intelligencer outlining the strange winding path that penicillin took and the crucial role of animal tests, which he has graciously permitted me to reprint:

Animals: Penicillin’s Success Came From Tests on Rats

By Robert Speth

    The animal rights movement has made schoolchildren primary targets of their
anti-research propaganda. The letter (May 14) from Victoria Wilkins, an
eighth-grader at Eckstein Middle School, is an example of how the animal
rights movement is victimizing children. The letter, which no doubt she took
great pains to write, is founded in the litany of inaccurate information used
by the animal rights movement to disparage animal research.

    While each of the arguments she poses against animal research can be
rebutted, her comment regarding penicillin is so inaccurate as to require
immediate correction.

    When penicillin was discovered in the 1870s, it was tested on humans. Its
effects were so erratic and unpredictable that it was ignored as a drug until
1940 when Sir Howard Florey tested it on eight mice injected with a lethal
dose of bacteria. Only the mice that got penicillin lived. The experiment was
so compelling that it quickly led to the use of penicillin in World War II,
saving thousands of soldiers’ lives.

    Florey used mice because he had so little penicillin he could not test it on
humans. Indeed, attempts to use penicillin in humans after Florey’s discovery
were still inconclusive. But, because the results in mice were so convincing,
Florey and his chemist purified their crude penicillin extract to obtain a
grade that worked reliably in humans.

    When animal rights activists tell children that penicillin kills guinea pigs
and, therefore, “If we had relied on animal research we would not have
penicillin” they are lying to our children.

    That is why teachers must be extremely vigilant with regard to the materials
distributed by animal rights groups for their curriculum. Children’s
schooling should not be a means for the animal rights movement to spread its
false propaganda.

    Dr Speth is Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, Pullman WA. He is also a charter member and Past-President of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics, a Board Member of the National Animal Interest Alliance, an emeritus board member of the Washington Association for Biomedical Research, and a recipient of the Lewis J. Kettel award from Incurably Ill For Animal Research.

Immigration Bill A Threat to Freedom

       Last week the
House of Representatives passed an immigration bill destined to restrict
illegal immigration into the United States that represents the first step
in placing all sorts of restrictions on legal immigration at a cost that
American freedom (not to mention the economy) cannot afford.

       Pushed on by
a coalition that cuts across party lines, anti-immigration fever is infecting
politicians of all stripes. Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan
has been the cheerleader for the latest round of anti-immigrant sentiments.
Although Buchanan’s nomination bid failed, he succeeded in pushing the
immigration debate much closer to his position.

       Democrats and
Republicans together, however, bear the blame of this new anti-immigration
mood as decades of spineless jellyfish leadership from both parties created
an opening for Buchanan to exploit. Rather than argue the obvious, that
immigration is one of the most important reasons the United States achieved
its world-leading economic position, both Democrats and Republicans engaged
in scape-goating of immigrants whenever it served their short-term political
interests.

       Like the Luddites,
who in the early 19th century attempted to preserve their economic position
by destroying the machines that helped create an unprecedented level of
material comfort, so the two major parties willingly sacrificed economic
gain at the altar of prejudice and know-nothing reaction to changes in
the economy.

       There is hardly
an industry in the United States today that would be as vibrant and dominant
without immigration. Many of the scientists who pushed Intel to its dominance
in computer chips came to this nation from Eastern European countries
where their ideas and innovations were not wanted. Although many politicians
complain when foreign citizens come to the United States to get degrees
in the hard sciences, our nation is strengthened by this and it should
be encouraged.

       In their opposition
to immigration, politicians maintain immigrants “steal” jobs
from American citizens. Some like Buchanan fear this so much they want
to build a fence around the United States. We know from history this simply
doesn’t work and, if it did, would ultimately harm the Americans whose
jobs it is supposed to protect.

       It makes no more
sense to prevent Mexican residents from crossing the border into the United
States to seek work than it would to build an enormous fence between Indiana
and Michigan to keep job seekers from crossing the state border. Will
Indiana residents move to Michigan to “steal” jobs from Detroit
autoworkers? Maybe. Does everyone in the United States benefit from being
able to move freely across state borders in search of employment? Absolutely.

       Free borders help
promote the sort of economy that continues to innovate, increase worker
productivity and improve the material position of all workers. Free interstate
commerce and workers movement has proven itself a success within the United
States, and it can bring about similar results if free movement between
the United States and Mexico were allowed.

       Politicians cite
the increasing welfare tabs picked up by states such as California as
a reason to discourage this movement of people. This is not a problem
with immigration, however, but with the ridiculous welfare programs created
by states such as California. The solution is not for the United States
to spend federal dollars to protect California’s out-of-control welfare
system from immigrants, but for California to stop engaging in the huge
income transfers that are the real source of its problems.

       In its irrational
reaction against immigration, the U.S. House of Representatives is willing
to go to extreme lengths to restrict illegal immigration. Part of a recently
passed bill created a three-year pilot project in which employers in five
states would voluntarily use a computerized system to verify that new
employees are indeed U.S. citizens. Many in Congress would eventually
like to see this system permanent. This is nothing more than an attempt
to create a nation citizen registry.

       If the system
is successful, it won’t be long before everyone in the United States is
required to carry a national ID card, which in fact an immigration task
force recommended a couple years ago.

       If the United
States really wants to do this sort of thing, it could accomplish it much
more cheaply by simply forcibly tattooing Social Security numbers and
other information on the arms of potential workers. Another 20th century
opponent of the right of people to move freely and seek employment demonstrated
just how effective this technique could be.

       At a time when
both parties complain about big government, the House bill authorizes
spending for 5,000 new border agents, along with 800 support staff (only
a government program would require one support person for every 6 new
border agents).

       There is the
hint of a salvageable idea in the immigration bill, though. The bill authorizes
spending $12 million to reinforce the fences around the U.S.-Mexican border,
including triple-fencing 14 miles of the border near San Diego. Now if
House members really want to have a positive impact, it should direct
that the $12 million be used to fence off Washington, DC, from the rest
of the nation. Put a few guards up and refuse to let any politician come
or go until they take an oath to start taking the U.S. Constitution and
Bill of Rights seriously.

       Now that might
be some serious immigration reforms.

Help, I’m Being Oppressed

       On nights when I can’t
quite get my information fix from the Internet, I like to walk down to
a local store that sells hundreds of different magazines and newspapers.
Because I am interested in computer games but not knitting, the proprietor
of the store has been kind enough to arrange the magazines by content,
so I never end up leafing through art magazines when what I really want
are the latest Quake II screenshots. The store also shelves sexually explicit
magazines together in one area and behind a glass partition.

       I always thought this was
an excellent scheme, but according to the hyperbole floating around the
Internet these days, this amounts to censorship.

       The whole brouhaha centers
around web blocking software. Often wrongly justified as an alternative
to government censorship, blocking software simply prevents a user from
accessing certain sites. The idea is to keep children from venturing into
areas that contains inappropriate content.

       Of course there are critics
who think that in itself is wrong. Jon Katz at HotWired argued earlier
in the year that essentially parents had no right to stifle their children’s
creative impulses. If your 15-year-old wants to check out the leather
S&M sites, who the hell are you to stop them? Although I probably
should make a long-winded reasoned argument against Katz’s position,
I’ll merely note that I hope Katz never runs into one of these creatively
free juveniles in a dark alley.

       But for the most part people
don’t disagree that keeping children from “adult” sites
is a bad idea. What they worry about is that the software and techniques
will spill over into the adult world. Unfortunately these arguments end
up being hopelessly confused about censorship.

Barbs for Barr

       Christopher Barr, a CNET columnist
with whom I rarely agree, found this out when he wrote a column proposing
a solution to a common problem with ratings systems for web sites. The
idea behind ratings systems is to have groups propose various rating systems
and then allow people with web sites to rate their content appropriately.

       The problem, of course, is
that ratings are like using nuclear weapons for fishing — rarely do you
get very precise targeting. As many critics have pointed out, if web ratings
are applied consistently, news sites would largely be blocked because
they carry stories involving violence or coverage of controversies over
sex and pornography.

       Even parents who might not
want their child visiting the S&M leather site might not want software
to block CNN’s website simply because it covers a controversy about
such a site. Barr advocates essentially creating a special exemption for
news web sites. As Barr puts it, “we feel that bonafide news sites
should be subject to different criteria.”

       There’s only one real
question — what counts as a “real” news site? In his hilariously
whiney complaint about this approach for The Netly News, Joshua
Quittner notes that the skin magazine “Screw” runs reviews of
adult videos. Doesn’t that make it a news site? (Yeah and next Quittner
will argue Netly News isn’t another boring corporate site
trying to pass itself off as technologically astute).

       The replies to Barr’s
columns are amusing. Declan McCullagh at Netly News complains
that repressive governments could use rating systems and blocking software
to ban controversial speech. Yeah and repressive governments could throw
books in a fire, but that’s not much of an argument against combustion.

       Barr doesn’t help his
case either by trying to take the moral high road. If he were honest he
would just admit the main problem his critics have with the system. Regardless
of what the final implementation of a news rating is, it will be largely
arbitrary.

But that’s fine

       And those busybodies who have
a problem with this should mind their own business. Look, if the Wall
Street Journal and Playboy an CNET and others want to get together and
decide amongst themselves who is and is not a real news site, more power
to them. If they can convince companies to include blocking features in
software which can block non-news sites which contain violence or other
contest, go for it.

       See there’s a simple
fundamental liberty called freedom of association. If a group of companies
want to get together and tell us their opinions — which is essentially
what a ratings system does — and then browsers give us the ability to
base our children’s browsing on those opinions, it’s none of
the American Civil Liberties Union’s business.

       The notion that this is censorship
is ludicrous. One of the comments Barr mentions from a reader is “If
someone else decides who runs a news site, isn’t it still censorship?”
No, of course not. If you believe, as I do, that this whole ratings system
is silly, don’t use it. Don’t install blocking software on your
computer, don’t activate it in your browsers and put up a rude web
site ripping on the Internet Content Coalition.

       But the point is you have
a choice. The Internet Content Coalition isn’t censoring anyone —
if you don’t agree with them simply don’t use programs which
use their criteria. Don’t label or rate your site. Get over it.

The Traditional Media

       The main problem the “censorship”
crowd has with this arrangement is they seem to think nothing akin to
it exists for other media. One of the people Barr quotes claims, “Since
the Supreme Court said the online world should be as free as print, and
no self-labeling system exists for magazines or newspapers, why should
the Net be any different?”

       While newspapers and magazines
don’t label themselves for the most part, third parties do come in
all the time and rate them. When I go to the magazine store, for example,
the proprietor often has the New York Times and Washington
Post
on a table with newspapers. The Village Voice, however,
is stuck back in a corner closer to magazines of political opinion. Similarly
glossy and questionable publications dealing with the Wild West are shelved
with fan magazines rather than with reputable history periodicals. New
Age and alternative medicine periodicals are kept separate from serious
medical and scientific journals.

       Each of these decisions involves
a third party coming along and essentially deciding what sort of magazine
or newspaper each periodical is and then arbitrarily placing it in its
area. If I objected to this — say I wanted all magazines shelved alphabetically
or perhaps I want to be able to find “Hustler” and “Sports
Illustrated! Kids” next to one another, I am always free to simply
purchase my magazines elsewhere.

       As Barr notes, “the success
of any self-rating and filtering system depends on how well it works and
how it’s accepted and used.” While parents might want their
kids not to see the adult sites, very few people I know run blocking software
to prevent themselves from having full access to the web. But if large
numbers of adults want to let a small coalition decide what they see and
here that’s fine — it’s their choice.

Genetic Insurance Is A Hedge For Future

       A few months ago I learned
I might have inherited a genetic disorder. Dealing with that was nothing
compared to the nightmare all Americans will face if Bill Clinton gets
his way on genetic testing.

       In my case, a relative developed
a genetic condition that is believed to be inheritable. The odds I have
the gene are very low, but the only way to know for sure is to get tested.

       This where President Clinton
comes in. During the next 10 to 20 years, numerous tests for genetic diseases
and disorders are going to be developed. Such tests will enable people
to determine with great precision their odds of developing everything
from cancer to heart disease to diabetes.

       Clinton and other politicians
fear this development will increase the cost of insurance and even make
insurance unavailable for some people. If an insurance company knows,
thanks to genetic testing, that a person is likely to die by age 40 or
suffer a serious illness in his 30s, it would be crazy not to charge that
person higher premiums for life and health insurance. Insurance companies
are, after all, not charities but businesses that help consumers distribute
the cost of risk.

       Clinton’s solution is to support
a bill currently before Congress that would make it illegal for insurance
companies to discriminate against people on the basis of genetic tests.
Insurance companies would have to offer the same premiums and policies
to those who carry the gene for Huntington’s disease as for those who
test negative for every genetic condition. This solution, unfortunately,
would likely destroy the insurance industry.

       If I learn I’m going to die
from a genetic disease, and the insurance companies are required to offer
me the same premiums and policies as they offer others, my choice is simple
– I’m going to buy as much health and life insurance as I can afford and
leave a hefty inheritance to my family.

       As the people most likely
to develop illness or die prematurely buy more insurance while those at
lower risk purchase less, insurance company costs will rise. Premiums
will also rise and the insurance industry in general might become unprofitable.

       Fortunately there are other
options.

       Alexander Tabarrok, an assistant
professor of economics at Ball State University, outlined an ingenious
alternative in the July/August issue of Contingencies, a magazine for
actuaries.

       Tabarrok’s solution is simple:
Since taking genetic tests imposes a risk that a person will learn he
has a genetic condition, people should take out insurance to protect themselves
against that risk.

       Tabarrok envisions a system
of mandatory genetic insurance like the system of mandatory car insurance
used throughout the nation. Just as states require automobile owners to
purchase insurance, so people taking genetic tests would be required to
purchase insurance. The insurance would cover the additional costs of
higher premiums and/or health care costs should the buyer be found to
carry a disease-causing gene.

       Unlike the proposal favored
by Clinton, Tabarrok’s genetic insurance would keep health insurance costs
at current levels and might even lower them. Since the risk of genetic
disease is already included in insurance costs, Tabarrok’s proposal essentially
just splits what is now one insurance policy into two.

       But since genetic insurance
removes any reason for people to avoid genetic tests, it would encourage
people to get genetic tests early in life. This would tend to reduce health
care costs, and hence insurance costs, as people received early treatment
for such diseases and increase their possibility of living long, healthy
lives.

       Someone with a gene increasing
the risk of heart disease, for example, could be advised to start a low
fat diet and regular exercise early in life, thereby increasing the probability
of avoiding heart disease altogether.

       Although Tabarrok’s proposal
would be great for consumers and insurance companies, it would be lousy
for politicians such as Clinton. Sure it would largely solve the genetic
testing dilemma, but it doesn’t let the president cast the insurance companies
as uncaring, profit-hungry Scrooges. It doesn’t create any huge new bureaucracy
or get the nation a step closer to nationalizing health care.

       Instead it simply uses market
forces to deliver the best goods at the best prices to consumers. If Clinton
would get behind that kind of policy, he could genuinely help people who
must make a difficult decision over genetic testing.

       This op-ed column originally
appeared in the Detroit News.

And the Winner of the 1996 Presidential Election Is … Archer Daniels Midland

ADM — Socialist Supermarket to the World

Why should the major networks have any qualm about calling the presidential winner early when it’s already
clear ADM and its CEO Dwayne Andreas are the big winners regardless of
how the race between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton turns out?

������Andreas and ADM are equal opportunity
givers. According to a Cato Institute study, ADM and its associates have
donated more than $4 million to the two major parties since the late 1970s.
In return the parties have treated ADM well, creating over $3 billion
in subsidies and special government protections according to the Cato
Institute.

������Concerned Americans don’t have
to go all the way to China to find what’s wrong with socialized agriculture;
ADM is a prime example funded by the United States government.

Price Fixers Extraordinaire

������Aside from their ubiquitous “Supermarket
to the World” commercials, ADM popped into the national consciousness
this summer when the Justice Department began investigating it for illegally
attempting to fix prices on several agricultural commodities, including
lysine, citric acid and high fructose corn syrup (one of the ingredients
in cola).

������At last report ADM was trying to
reach a settlement agreement on price-fixing charges by paying a fine
of up to $200 million to the government, while a federal grand jury was
expected to hand down criminal indictments against Michael Andreas, ADM
executive vice president, and Terrence Wilson, head of ADM’s corn-processing
division.

������ADM’s price fixing is a textbook
study about monopoly and price fixing. Although people commonly believe
monopoly and price fixing are the result of free and unfettered competition,
in fact those thrive only where governments intervene to protect firms
from competition on the marketplace. The swirl of regulations, subsidies
and special market protection enabled ADM to attempt to fix prices.

������More importantly, though, ADM executives
must think the U.S. government is being a little schizophrenic. After
all, the legislation that ADM asks for and usually receives causes much
more harm to American consumers, and does exactly what ADM is being punished
for now — it fixes prices for consumers at far higher prices than normal
market forces would allow.

������Perhaps it’s time the Justice
Department conducted an anti-trust investigation of Congress!

ADM: The Mother of All Welfare Mothers

������According to James Bovard’s
excellent study, “Archer Daniels Midland: A Case Study In Corporate
Welfare,” published by the Cato Institute, ADM is the single largest
welfare recipient in the United States. Bovard found that 43 percent of
ADM’s annual profits come from markets that simply wouldn’t
exist without subsidies or protection.

������Bovard estimates that regulations
and subsidies benefiting ADM cost the U.S. economy up to $40 billion from
1980 to 1995. According to Bovard, every $1 in profits to ADM from its
corn sweetener division costs U.S. consumers $10.

������ADM essentially earns money the
old fashion way — through government handouts.

������In a bit of hilarious irony, in 1994
the Horatio Alger Association, which according to its materials gives
awards to “individuals in our society who have succeeded in the face
of adversity,” honored Andreas for his stellar climb from poor son
of a Menonite farmer to the hardest working leech in America. Apparently
the great American dream now includes getting Congress to set up your
very own medieval fiefdom.

It’s Raining Money

������Andreas knows how the system works
and how to profit from it. He uses a vast network of friends and business
associates to funnel millions of dollars to candidates of both parties.

������One of the major recipients of Andreas’
good will has been former Republican Sen. Bob Dole. According to the Center
for Public Integrity, ADM-related donors contributed $217,800 to Dole
over his career, putting them fourth on the list of all-time career Donors
to Dole’s campaigns. In addition to the out and out contributions,
ADM also contributes to Dole and Dole-related enterprises in other ways.

������Both Bob and Elizabeth Dole have
used ADM’s corporate jet to fly them across the country. Bob Dole
reimburses ADM for the price of a first class ticket on a commercial airline
to avoid having the use of the private jet be considered a campaign contribution,
whereas Elizabeth Dole usually uses the excuse that she was flown at the
request of one charity group or another who wanted her to speak. In one
instance, several executives tagged along with Elizabeth Dole on one of
her jaunts, but her press secretary made certain to emphasize that in
no way was ADM trying to buy access to a politically connected individual.
Perhaps ADM executives simply find Elizabeth Dole a heart conversationalist.

������It’s wrong, however, to imply
this sort of graft is anything but standard operating procedure for politicians.
In fact Bill Clinton has been much more brazen than Dole.

������In June 1994 Bill Clinton received
a $100,000 check from ADM-related concerns. A few days later the Clinton
administration announced a new rule requiring gasoline sold in the 9 most
polluted cities to contain at least 30% ethanol additives by 1996. The
government’s ethanol subsidies are little more than ADM subsidies;
the company takes in up to $2.1 billion revenues solely from ethanol and
ethanol-related subsidies and regulations. In this case, though, a federal
court blocked the proposed ethanol requirement.

������Aside from Clinton and Dole, the
list of politicians who accept ADM money reads like a Who’s Who of
Washington, DC. People such as Robert Byrd, Henry Espy, Henry Hyde, Connie
Mack, Charles Robb, Arlen Specter, and others who normally disagree on
a wide range of areas all agree that what’s in ADM’s interest
is in America’s interest (not to mention politician’s financial
interests).

������For ADM, though, the price of purchasing
politicians is downright cheap. Although corn prices are currently high
and likely to remain so for the short term, the new agricultural “reform”
bill passed by the 104th Congress and signed by Clinton will deliver guaranteed
payments of billions of dollars to agribusinesses such as ADM. Not a bad
return for a few million dollar investment.

The Solution: Get Government Out of People’s Lives

������The problem with many critics of
ADM is that their solution is essentially more of the same. Magazines
such as “Mother Jones” dutifully chronicle the absurdity of
a political system that allows for corporate welfare on the scale it is
practice in the United States, but in the end call for more government
under the “right people.” Under this view, the problem is merely
that a group of ultra-rich, unenlightened and greedy people calls the
shots in Washington, DC. If only the nation would replace them with not-so-rich,
enlightened, selfless, wonderful people surely then the system would work.

������This is no more than a fairy tale.
The problem is not that the wrong people run the system; the problem is
with the system itself. A government that has the power to increase or
decrease the price of farm commodities (or any commodity for that matter)
in order to benefit some at the expense of others will inevitably be used
for precisely that purpose. The solution is not better leaders; the solution
is a better system – one that does not sell our rights and livelihoods
to the highest bidders every few years.

As long as Americans continue to tolerate the constant intervention of the government into the economy and into their lives, the result will continue to be the rule not of the people by the people, but of ADM for ADM.

Capital Punishment Is Immoral

       When considering such hot topics
as capital punishment, the thing to keep in mind is that rationality and
reason must prevail. Some people claim that issues like this cannot truly
be resolved, but this is only because supporters of the various positions
on capital punishment tend to shout past each other with ad hominem attacks
and simple emotional please. In a democratic society like ours it is imperative
that irrationality not prevail.

       Now to the heart of the matter.
There are two fundamental arguments against the state’s use of capital
punishment on those who commit violent crimes.

       The state does not have the
right to kill criminal offenders.

       In a democratic system like
the United States, the state derives whatever rights it possesses solely
from the collective rights of the individuals who compose the state. The
Preamble to the Constitution begins “We the people…” not “The
nation state called the United States…” The powers granted to the
government under the Constitution strictly derive from the rights of individuals.

       For example, individuals have
the right to own property and to maintain that property. If someone should
steal a person’s property, the original owner maintains ownership rights
to the property. The criminal justice system is nothing more then the
expression of the collective rights of all citizens.

       If a collective group of citizens
does not have the right to do something, than neither does the state,
because the state is merely acting as a proxy representative for the collective
rights of all.

       Using this model, it immediately
becomes clear that no collective group of citizens has the right to kill
an unarmed person and therefore the state is not entitled to that right
either.

       Imagine being locked in a
room with five or six other people. All of a sudden one of individuals,
John, stabs and kills another person in the room, Mike.

       You and the rest of the people
in the room quickly grab the knife from John, tie him up and throw him
in the bathroom.

       Now what are you going to
do about John? He’s clearly guilty of murder. You have two options.

       First, you can leave him in
the bathroom until you either find a way out of the room, or wait until
he’s no longer deemed a threat to the rest of the people in the room and
release him.

       Or you could designate someone
to go in and kill John.

       What would happen to you in
both cases once you made it out of the locked room?

       While imprisoning someone
does deprive an individual of his or her rights, a killer has clearly
given up his right to freedom and no reasonable person would condemn you
for that act. In fact you’d probably be considered heroic.

       If, however, you decided to
kill the murderer, you and your fellow plotters are guilty of first degree,
premeditated murder. While you certainly maintain the right to self-defense,
every law in the country agrees that self-defense ends when the perpetrator
no longer presents a clear and present danger.

       In other words, you don’t
have the right to go into the bathroom and execute the murderer. Stretching
this thought experiment further, imagine everyone in Michigan was somehow
in this one room (it’s a big room), and they all decided to kill the murderer.
Every one of them would be guilty of premeditated murder.

       Because no collective group
of citizens has the right to execute a person who does not present a clear
and present danger to their immediate safety, neither does the state which
merely acts as a proxy in defending and exercising the rights of the state.

       Capital punishment kills innocent
people.

       Okay, now that you’ve suffered
through that complicated thought experiment, the following is the most
compelling argument this writer has ever seen against capital punishment.

       One of the greatest mistakes
a system of justice can do is punish the innocent while rewarding the
guilty. When innocent people are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit
at least the state can offer some form of restitution. In capital cases
this is impossible.

       The murder of an innocent
person in an act of rage or hatred or greed is horrific. The murder of
an innocent person by the cold machinations of the state is unconscionable.

       The following is a list of
people who have been sentenced to death in the 20th century, only to later
have their innocence proven. A few were lucky and managed to show their
innocence before the state executed them. Most were not.

       J.B. Brown
       Neil Shumway
       Charles Stielow
       Maurice Mays
       Anastarcio Vargas
       Pietra Matera
       Gus Colin Langley
       Private A.B. Richie
       John Valletutti
       Ralph Lobaugh
       Frank Smith
       Edgar Labat
       Clinton Poret
       Lloyd Eldon Miller
       Freddie Pitts
       Wilbert Lee
       Calvin Sellers
       Thomas Gladish
       Richard Kline
       Clarence Smith
       Richard Greer
       Johnny Ross
       Robert Henry McDowell

       This column original appeared
in the Western Herald in November 1992.