Hamlet, Once Again

To ‘kill’ or not to ‘kill’, that is the question

Execution, for a capital crime, means snuffing out a life. By now, readers must have known that this author is no fan of capital punishment. No moral issues are involved. The only reservation is that the punishment is irreversible. And, with so many poor, wretched folk being locked up for years without trial, or wrongly sentenced, ‘judgements that cannot be corrected’ is hard to accept.

Freddie Hall is awaiting execution. He is to be administered a lethal injection. In actual practice, it is a number of injections. Generally, the sentenced convict is tied down, euphemistically called ‘strapped’, to an inclined chair. A series of injections, each with a different purpose, ranging from sedation to poisoning, are then pumped into him. All automatic, of course, so no one has actually ‘killed’ him, or her. They call it humane.

One can imagine the plight of a person being led to the sterile chamber. (It is said that even the needles are sterilised. Why is anybody’s guess.) Surely, when one is so close to meeting The Maker, emotions would play havoc with the victim to be. But the consensus is that Freddie is least perturbed. In fact, he sat through his trial with equanimity on his face and a pencil and paper in hand. He actually doodled his way through.

Freddie is not the tough cookie, as most readers would have decided by now. The authorities feel that he knows not what is about to happen. Freddie is not normal, mentally.

One of 16 children, brought up in abject poverty, Freddie is still a child in his attitude to life. So how did he end up on the wrong side of the law? A terribly wrong side of the law.

Thirty-five years ago, Freddie and another man decided to rob a store. They needed a get-away vehicle. They held up a woman in her car, took her to the woods and raped and killed her. Later, in a shoot-out, a policeman was killed. Freddie got the death rap while his partner got ‘life’ in prison. The court had decided that Freddie was the main culprit. Freddie Hall, murderer… with an IQ of less than 70!

In some countries, there is a limit below which a person’s IQ entitles him to be declared incapable of normal behaviour. In other, politically correct, words mentally challenged.
Freddie fits that bill. And, since the Supreme Court of America has a stay on executions of such people, Freddie’s case is about to decide the fate of a few thousand others.

The law of crime requires a very important ingredient, in order to obtain a conviction. It is called ‘mensrea’—Latin, for a bad mind, or malafide intent. The law distinguishes between a mistake and premeditated crime. It also considers whether the perpetrator knew of and realised the results of his actions. In other words, an imbecile cannot be considered guilty. Hospitalisation is most often the solution.

You be the judge.
As Freddie awaits the decision and his fate, what is your gut feeling? Should he or should he NOT be executed? Consider the law in force. Consider Freddie’s perceptions of right and wrong. Should the relatives of the murdered woman, pregnant at that time, and those of the policeman, be avenged? Should a life for a life (or two) be the final solution? We will keep our ear to the ground on this one.

In India, a delay of 35 years would set aside the execution. Maybe, as reports tell us, get even a pardon, in the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. Cruel and unusual punishment is, often, cited as a reason. Is insanity, then, also a valid defence?

Of greater import is the benchmark IQ of 70, or whatever. It is almost impossible to obtain a higher IQ than capability. But is it not easy to fool the examiner into lowering the score and thereby escape the gallows? Tough questions. Finally, are we, as humans, supposedly civilised, in a position to faithfully answer these? We rest our case.

Author’s Note: Is it not possible, knowing Freddie’s lack of intelligence, that his companion might have found it easy to mislead the court into believing that it was Freddie, and not he, who pulled the trigger? Anyone for banning CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?

Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]


Ad endorsing da Vinci robot violated Illinois policies?

When surgical team members endorsed the robot in an ad, controversy ensued. An internal review finds no ill intent, but says policies were violated, calls for clearer rules

An internal review by the University of Illinois has found that an advertisement in which a university surgical team endorsed a pricey surgical robot violated school policies.

Though the team acted “in good faith,” the review concluded, the episode pointed to the need for clearer rules and stronger enforcement.

The review by the university system’s vice president of research followed criticism of the ad for the da Vinci surgical robot that ran in the New York Times Magazine in January. It featured a dozen members of the surgery team at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System above the headline “We believe in da Vinci surgery because our patients benefit.”

While surgical leaders at the Chicago hospital viewed their appearance in the ad as “free publicity” for their program, the review said, some outsiders saw it as promoting a commercial product. Paul Levy, the former chief executive of the prestigious Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, wrote a series of blog posts saying their actions violated hospital policies.

ProPublica wrote about the controversy last month.

The ad was intended to run in 11 magazines, the review said, but the university asked Intuitive Surgical, the robot’s maker, to suspend it after Levy’s posts began appearing. The company agreed.

The review found that staff members were not paid for appearing in the ad and that “there were no fraudulent attempts to hide any associations between faculty and Intuitive Surgical.”

But the review also found that policies were broken.

“Based on discussions with individuals involved in the advertisement, neither the Office for University Relations, which works with the campuses to ensure consistent application of the University’s image and messages, nor the Ethics Office, was consulted regarding the participation of UIC employees in the advertisement,” said the report, which is dated March 15 but was released publicly yesterday. “Additionally, approval was not solicited from the Chief Operating Officer of the Medical Center as required by internal policy.”

The review found that the policies governing conflicts of interest were “complicated and inconsistent.”

“There is a lack of ownership and accountability for conflict disclosure and management,” in which different parts of the system have their own rules and do not coordinate, the review said. It called for clearer standards and more coordination between different divisions of the university.

Two doctors in the ad disclosed to the university in January, after the ad ran, that they had received “$5,000 or more aggregate income from and/or have greater than $5,000 investment or equity” in Intuitive. A third doctor reported a relationship with Intuitive but said it was valued at “none or less than $5,000.” All three had previously said they had no relationship with the company in 2013-14.

The review found that their disclosure forms were not signed by the head of the surgery department or other superiors, as required. (The head of surgery also appeared in the ad.)

Questions have been raised about the value of the da Vinci system.

A study found that deaths and injuries linked to surgery with the robots are going underreported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement last year: “There is no good data proving that robotic hysterectomy is even as good as—let alone better—than existing, and far less costly, minimally invasive alternatives.”

The University of Illinois has spent $4.6 million buying products from Intuitive over the past two and a half years, the review found. That includes $2.2 million for one of its surgical systems. Intuitive declined comment on the report, but has said previously that its advertising campaign “is intended to educate both the medical and patient communities by using factual information from independent, peer-reviewed studies that prove the safety of our system.”

University spokesman Thomas Hardy told the Chicago Tribune yesterday that employees had not been disciplined for their roles in the ad but that everyone involved is “embarrassed.”

“If we had a do-over, we would do it right, or not at all,” Hardy told the newspaper. “We needed a more fulsome discussion as to what we were going to do, and what policies would affect that and whether it was something worth doing.”


Courtesy: ProPublica.org


Tata Housing Plans Retirement Homes in Eight Cities

Tata Housing said that it plans to invest Rs1,200 crore in developing 13 housing projects for senior citizens over the next five years. The company has already launched its first project, Riva Residences, in Bengaluru. Work on similar projects would soon commence in more cities, including Chennai, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Pune. It estimates that there are 98 million Indians of 60+ years and this number is going to double by 2030.


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