- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Two weeks ago in Hill v. McDonoughTheSupreme court unanimously ruled that a death-row inmate may challenge in court, via the 1871 civil rights act (42 USC 1983), the cruel and unusual nature of the method of execution he is about to be subjected to. In that case the method was lethal injection.

Last week, in a related case reported by the Associated Press, the natural-foods grocery chain Whole Foods Market has ruled that they will stop selling live lobsters and soft-shelled crabs “on the grounds that it’s inhumane.” They will, however, “continue to sell frozen, raw and cooked lobster products.” According to the AP, animal-rights activists welcomed the decision.

Now admittedly the first case is from a law court and the second case is from a food court, but this may be a case of harmonic convergence to the same issue: While the right to kill either a man or a lobster is not disputed, the method of execution may now be challenged on cruelty grounds.

Actually, the human case is quite straightforward, but the matter of the lobster execution involves a more subtle analysis. Note that they will continue to sell previously, professionally murdered lobsters, but will not sell live lobsters to be murdered by their amateur customers.

The high justices at Whole Foods Market (I assume they wear aprons, rather than the traditional legal robes whether they are rendering a verdict or rendering pork fat) may have a point. There are eight known ways to murder a lobster: chilling, drowning, spiking, chest spiking, splitting, tailing, freezing and boiling.

Professionals know that boiling live lobsters who are still at room temperature tends to make the meat too chewy. Of course freezing ruins both texture and appearance. Regretfully, most amateurs either murder their lobsters by boiling or buy them pre-murdered in a frozen state.

The preferred method by professional lobster hit-men and cooks is to chill the live lobster almost to death and then either boil or grill the victim.

Being cold-blooded, the lobster responds well to surrounding temperature, and is lulled by the chilling to a calm mental state prior to the death plunge. And, being-cold blooded metaphorically, the professional cook does not blanch or go weak at the knees while performing the execution.

Of course these cooking tips don’t quite go to the humanitarian concerns for the lobster expressed by the high justices of Whole Foods Markets. But then, neither does science support such humanitarian concerns.

Invertebrates, such as lobsters and snails (which are also delicious) conveniently (for those of us who love to eat lobsters and snails and also feel sympathy for animals) have simple nervous systems made up of chain ganglia — groups of neurons connected by nerve fibers. According to Professor Craig W. Stevens of Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, the chain ganglia network is so simple it doesn’t require a brain (a phenomenon that is replicated in certain higher primates, such as liberals).

Thus, according to University of California at San Diego Professor of Anesthesiology Tony Yash (as cited by ABC News), the motor response and general squirming you observe whilst murdering a lobster are fully carried out by the ganglia without informing its pea brain. Indeed, if you cut the head of the lobster off, you would see the same motor responses. With the information not being sent to its brain, the lobster is never self-consciously seized of being aware of the emotional state we higher animals call pain.

Supporting this finding that lobsters feel no pain whilst being murdered, and that humans are merely projecting their emotions onto the dumb brutes, is, perhaps not surprisingly, Dr. Richard Cawthorn, Director of the Lobster Science Center at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada.

I confess that until looking into this matter I didn’t even know there was a science of lobster. And I must warn the reader that I have not investigated to determine whether or not the big lobster industry has, per chance, partially funded the research at the Lobster Science Center and has thereby gotten its claws into the research findings. But on balance I would find that the ruling by the high justices at Whole Foods Market lacks merit.

It is a curiosity that when the U.S. courts consider death-sentence cases of humans, a very low intelligence of the prisoner may be grounds for not executing the convicted murderer — as he is judged too feeble-minded to understand the moral nature of his circumstances. And yet in the matter of the lobster, a very low intelligence is seen as an argument for going ahead with the execution.

As both lobster and man surely should stand (or squirm) as equals before the high courts of justice, this insight, taken one way, may offer a new line of argument for animal-rights advocates. Of course, taken the other way, it might offer a new line of argument for human prosecutors.

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