The Barbarity of Executing Persons with Disabilities—Canadians Are Sure to Cover It, Even if We Don’t


It used to be embarrassing whenever I visited my former in-laws in the Netherlands.  The anti-Americanisms usually got served with the first cup of Douwe Egberts coffee (along with a nice little chocolate treat).  After 20 years, I could count on one hand what issues fascinated them most about the United States, and they all had to do with violence—the death penalty, guns, and urban violence.  Working as I did for years at an institution that specialized in criminal justice, it was hard to claim ignorance about violence.  But I tried.  And then as my scholarship moved toward (dis)ability, I could no longer even feign ignorance over foreign coffee.  It is barbaric.

We are aligned with Somalia and Saudi Arabia in our death-penalty practices.  To be sure, the Supreme Court banned executing persons with intelligence scores of less than Warren Hill’s 70 IQ, but straddling the edge of being smart enough to be put to death is a problem.  It’s good that Hill’s execution has led Georgia to take a second look at the justice of killing someone who is a person who has lived with an intellectual disability his whole life.  But it’s darn embarrassing that this issue, I’m sure my foreign former in-laws would say, getsmore coverage in Canada than it does in the U.S.  No one is defending Hill, but they are for sure opposing the barbarity of a nation that executes people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see

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