AN INNOCENT CHOICE
Matthew A. Stirnaman
“Will he feel any pain?” she asked.
“Maybe a small amount. It’s much more humane, a win-win,” said Mr. Geist.
Josephine looked over the contract in front of her. She tried to absorb the words. She tried to catch the double meanings that legal writers are so adept at sneaking in. The words might as well have been in a foreign language, her mind was occupied. She focused on the smell of the beach. The waves crashed a few hundred yards away. It calmed her to know that she would be able to dip her toes again.
She signed at the dotted line.
“Very good. The donor should be here soon, make yourself comfortable,” Mr. Geist said.
Josephine walked back into the room. Mr. Geist bundled up his things from the patio table. The two double beds made the room look small. Josephine laid down on the closest one, her joints popping. She couldn’t help but groan in pain. Every movement hurt lately.
“Soon, that pain will just be a memory,” Mr. Geist said.
“That will be nice.”
“We need to go over the process again.” Mr. Geist sat on the edge of the opposite bed. Josephine shut her eyes and listened to him talk. His voice was soft, she felt warm and safe.
“Okay, that’s good. I don’t want to mess anything up.”
“Don’t worry about that, your part is pretty simple. The injections will feel like your chemo treatments. I know that isn’t a fond experience, but it will be the last time you have to go through it.”
Josephine reached up and felt the bandana on her head. “I can manage that.”
“You’re so strong,” he said. “Once we begin the life transferal, there are a few things you need to be aware of.”
“Yes, it’s the most crucial part. I need to make sure that you are ready. Once we start, it’s not safe to terminate until the process is complete. If you don’t accept the donation, he will live, while your health will be very uncertain.”
A light tapping came from the door. Mr. Geist opened it, and came back into the room with two nurses, an armed guard, and a man in handcuffs. The man was laid down on the bed. His eyes were barely open. Saliva trickled down onto his orange jumpsuit.
The nurses attached the tubes to the prisoner’s arms, legs, and neck. They did the same with her. Each tube ran into a computer terminal that sat between the beds. The nurses avoided eye contact with Josephine as they injected the needles into her.
The terminal was powered on. Her veins felt hot as the substance flowed into her. Mr. Geist knelt down. “Remember, Josey. We can give you the water, but we can’t make you swallow. That is up to you.”
“What if I don’t?” she asked.
“That isn’t the road you want to go down. This is a one-time thing. Your chance at a second life.”
“What’s his name?”
“I want to know his name.”
Mr. Geist motioned for the guard and exchanged whispers. “His name is William Modelski.”
“Thank you, William,” she said to the man across from her. If he heard her, she couldn’t tell.
One of the nurses mentioned something about blood levels, Mr. Geist acknowledged her and turned back to Josephine. “We’re ready.”
Josephine closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Do it.”
She wasn’t sure if anything had actually started. Save for a few whirring noises, nothing seemed to happen. Then, everything happened at once. A fire burned in her bones. Her skin became a billion particles, floating around her, shifting. Flashes of childhood images assaulted her vision. A tiny apartment with no furniture. People sitting below the windows. This wasn’t her life she was seeing. The vision dissolved into a dozen memories all together. She focused on one of them that seemed more important than the rest.
Through unfamiliar eyes, she looked down onto a courtyard. Two men were yelling at each other, people scattered, ducking behind stoops and dumpsters. It happened so fast. She heard the shots before she realized what they had pulled from their pants. The shots came in rapid succession. One of the men pointed his gun and squeezed the trigger. Bullets ripped out of the barrel so fast. A school bus turned the corner as the gun went off. The yellow metal was punctured at least a dozen times before it braked hard.
Josephine wanted so badly to control the arms and legs of the man she was looking through. She didn’t have to. She witnessed a mad sprint out the door and down the stairs. He got to the bus and pried open the door. The driver hunched over the steering wheel. There was more blood than she had ever seen. She tried to will him, beg him not to turn his gaze onto the kids. The pain she felt when he did was worse than the cancer eating away at her body. The man in control reached for a crying child when a command was barked at him from outside the bus.
She could hear the sound of the hand cuffs clicking into place. She saw his reflection in the window of the cop car. He was just a young man, so much different looking than the tired, wrinkled face across from her.
“If you don’t accept,” Mr. Geist had said, “he will live.”
She could feel the life force trying to force its way into her. It was like being stranded in a desert for forty days and saying no to a gallon of water. She fought the urge.
“Just take it.” She thought it was Mr. Geist ordering her. “I’m ready to sleep.” Josephine struggled to open her eyes and found herself staring into the eyes of her innocent donor. “I want you to, ma’am. You look like you’ve been through a lot.”
“Thank you, William.”
Food for thought
Not all states incorporate the death penalty. Throughout history, multiple methods have been used to carry out the sentence. Hanging, the electric chair, lethal injection, and even firing squads. What if the life of a convicted criminal could be used to save that of an innocent individual? If you are for the death penalty, would that be an acceptable method? If you are against the death penalty, would that be a good alternative? These are questions posed to someone outside of the situation. What if it was you? If you had the opportunity for another chance at life, would you take the life of a murderer? What if that person was innocent?
About the Author
Matthew Stirnaman lives in Orlando with his ridiculously patient wife and a dog of questionable intelligence. He loves to write and plans on doing a bit more of it.
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I am against the death penalty, but, I am not a pacifist. This puts me in an odd position. I am against war; but I can see that choosing war may quite often be the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, I cannot see execution as the lesser of two evils, even if the prisoner wishes to die.
In the case of war, taking lives is an evil that is tolerated in order to achieve an objective that is less evil than the taking of lives. Letting a Hitler take over, or letting a country be conquered by people whom they do not wish in charge is often a worse evil than the killing that occurs in war. Note that in both cases cited, killing will take place regardless, so the question of killing is already on the table.
A type of theodicy of this thought is found in Romans 13 where Saint Paul states that government is given the sword in order to restrain lawlessness. In a more apocalyptic vein, in 2 Thessalonians, Saint Paul states that when the “man of lawlessness” is no longer restrained, then the end will come. In this case, a Christian theodicy could very well argue that the evil of killing people is less than the evil of allowing lawlessness.
However, in the case of someone in prison, there is no lawlessness that is being allowed. Rather, the lawlessness is being restrained by non-fatal means, by imprisoning the offender. In this case, there is no “need” to kill, other than pure retribution. While many verses can be cited from the Old Testament to justify the death penalty, the Gospels seem to point to a different attitude, particularly in the possibly-apocryphal John 8, where the woman caught in adultery is not given the death penalty.
A caveat needs to be put in. A pro-life stance toward the death penalty cannot simply be an anti-death penalty stance. That is too poor a stance. Rather, a pro-life stance toward the death penalty must also include the commitment to keep the felon incarcerated in such conditions that we could stand before any justice or court and affirm that the felon has lived in reasonable and humane conditions, even though restrained.
[Note: If one is going to be totally utilitarian with regard to prisons, then the position that would seem to have more utility is to simply apply the death penalty quickly and efficiently to those guilty of capital crimes and to those who are irremediable repeat offenders. That is, the three strikes laws should lead not to life imprisonment, but to death. The problem with the utility approach is that it is already one being bruited about in parts of Europe, such as Denmark, to cover those with irreversible injury, mental disease, etc. Thus, utility would seem to me to quickly lead to more death and to a devaluation of the human qua human.]
Another great story Matt. Thought provoking and riveting!