Only Mostly Dead

Absolutely random thought of the moment: if someone is executed and deemed to be dead by the doctor present at the execution, can he be resuscitated afterwards? Most execution orders- going by numerous cop dramas here- read something like ‘hung until dead’, ‘electrocution sufficient to cause death’, etc. So… once you’re dead, is the sentence carried out? If you pop back into the realm of the living with a little help from Mr. Defibrillator, does the state no longer have a claim on your body?

Peculiarly enough, I am apparently not the first person in the world to consider this scenario. In fact, back in 1894, a New York doctor petitioned for the right to try and resuscitate a prisoner following his execution. The state attorney general said no, primarily on technical grounds; the statute said that following the execution, the body would be given a post-mortem, and then either handed over to a family member or buried on the state’s dime. As the doc in question was no relation to the convict, he couldn’t take possession of the body following the execution. Of course, the whole post-mortem examination (assuming they mean autopsy, and not ‘yeah, he’s dead’) might make resuscitation a bit dicey.

Unfortunately, that still leaves the original question unanswered. Let’s say you find a state without a clear requirement for an invasive examination of the body following the execution, and a cooperative family member willing to give a crash team access to the condemned following his close encounter with the light at the end of the tunnel. Could you immediately begin attempts to revive the deceased?

On the slightly more macabre end of the spectrum, we have statements from prison officials and others indicating that, should a death row convict’s life end by illness or misadventure prior to their appointment with ol’ sparky, every effort will be made (at taxpayer expense) to revive the condemned individual and make sure that they are restored to health before being executed. I’m hard pressed to discern what state interest is furthered by such actions, particularly given that many capital punishment advocates maintain that the deaths of capital prisoners are more painless and humane than anything else available.


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