From here, and kind of nuts: as you can see below, there are essentially five methods by which the United States has ever killed someone (in an execution sense, at least):
- Firing Squad
- Gas Chamber
- Lethal Injection
Regardless of where you lie on the “We should execute people” continuum, you can probably argue that hanging, firing squad, and electrocution are pretty barbaric for 2015. The gas chamber probably counts there too, primarily because it offers a direct tie to the Holocaust, which was pretty much one of the worst things in world history. So your big answer is “lethal injection” as the “winner” (using that term loosely here) in this case, but now states are running out of the proper execution drugs and using untested methods, so even lethal injection — a concept you could once view medically, if nothing else — is becoming barbaric as well.
Here’s the chart of methods:
Interestingly, since we really don’t use hangings anymore, it’s kind of weird to consider that the bulk of American history has seen “hanging” as the primary method of execution — it was still peaking around the beginning of WW2! Since 1980 or so, it’s been primarily lethal injection, but now that might slowly be changing: Utah, for example, is moving closer to returning to firing squad. Oklahoma may allow execution by nitrogen gas, which would be a first among U.S. states. Alabama is considering bringing back the electric chair, which has a long and storied history with gruesome execution method.
Personally, I have a take on this that might seem lacking in humanity to some. I feel like if you’re on Death Row in the first place, you likely did something awful. As a result, why should society care if you endure 45 more minutes of pain? Does that make sense?
Where it gets complicated, I guess, is that I’m sure about 20 percent of people on Death Row are innocent — the legal system is a great process, but it has many flaws, which means it’s a great way to broadly explain America — and those people have been through years of hell on the inside, then have to die in a horrible, undignified way? That’s awful.
But for someone where there’s conclusive proof that he raped and killed an entire family or something? Then yes, I’m OK with flames shooting out of his head or him writing on a gurney, etc.
I do understand that at the broadest level, any execution discussion is essentially about all of us “playing God,” which is a terrible concept from the get-go.