Among some of the most controversial issues of our lives today, no question pops up as frequently as the question of the ethics concerning the Death Penalty. Capital punishment according to the website legal-explanations.com is “the death sentence awarded for capital offences like crimes involving planned murder, multiple murders, repeated crimes, rape and murder etc where in the criminal provisions consider such persons as a gross danger to the existence of the society and provide death punishment.”
With its origins in Latin ‘capitalis’ meaning ‘regarding the head’, a capital crime was originally punished by severing of the head. The first death penalty laws were established as far back as the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. It was also a part of the 14th century B.C.’s Hittie Code; in the Seventh Century B.C.’s Draconian Code of Athens, which made death the only punishment for all crimes; and in the Fifth Century B.C.’s Roman law of the Twelve Tablets. Death Sentences were carried out by such means as crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement. (Deathpenaltyinfo.org Part I: History of the Death Penalty)
There are many arguments both for and against the application of the death penalty. Many people in favor of the death penalty would argue that it serves as a strong deterrent to potential recipients of such a punishment and therefore helps maintain a safer society. While numerous such arguments exist on both sides, I will be discussing why the death penalty is morally, ethically and fundamentally wrong, and try to present counter-arguments to claims made by the advocates of the death penalty.
One problem with the death penalty is that it is simply uncivilized. Most of Western Europe no longer retains the death penalty. On top of that, when Turkey recently made an application for admission to the European Union, the Union’s committee made a recommendation against it, citing that “Turkey retains the barbaric practice of capital punishment.“American countries like Mexico and Canada have abandoned the death penalty. The parliament of Europe also passed a resolution urging the United States to abandon the death penatly. A magazine, now in international circulation says, “Throughout Europe in particular, the death penalty is thought of as simply uncivilized.
“That its practice is said to be problematic for a leading nation. German Justice minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin has argued, “The Americans do not hesitate, proud as they are of their democratic tradition, to reproach other countries over human rights violations.“I think that great cost is desensitizing us to death and to using violence as an instrument for civilized society.
Another one of the biggest ethical problems associated with the use of capital punishment is its irreversibility. Death penalty, unlike conventional punishments is absolutely final. When a person, innocent of his charges is awarded the death penalty and after he/she is executed, there is no going back if advances in medical/forensic technology provide solid evidence in favor of the condemned’s innocence. The court or the executioner cannot give back a life, so why should they be able to take it? The researchers Radelet and Bedau (1992) affirm that, “no less than twenty-three people have been executed who did not commit the crime they were accused of” (Focus on the Death Penalty, 2001). The execution of an innocent is not a problem existing solely in the United States; it taints almost every region in the world which still use capital punishment.
A death penalty advocate would argue that once a condemned person is deprived of his or her life, he or she is also stripped of the ability to harm or detriment the society further. If a person is deemed to pose threat to society, life in prison also guarantees no future crimes; and in some cases, is even more psychologically effective than the death penalty. Human beings are social creatures and the level of sensory and social deprivation experienced by some prison inmates is often enough to break them and their purpose to commit future crimes. Many would argue that life in prison would cost the tax-payer more than if the death penalty was carried out. Why should the tax-payer waste valuable resources in prolonging the life of an individual if he or she harbors naught but unfavorable wishes against him? Little do they know that in fact, executions cost almost four times as much! An average lifer would cost somewhere around $500,000 to the government (antideathpenalty.org/reasons) while an execution can cost as much as $ 2 million! Most of this money however is not diverted to the actual process of the execution itself; instead it takes the form of free counseling for defense, for appeals, maximum security on a separate death row wing. (antideathpenalty.org/reasons)
The application of the death penalty can often have a completely reverse effect among potential lawbreakers-it creates martyrs. Criminals are usually associated with a negative connotation in society. Most people are repulsed by the unconscionable, vile act they commit and are tremendously sympathetic for the victims of heinous crimes such as rape, murder etc. However, sometimes the death penalty can shift popular sympathy aside from the victims of the crime and to the criminals themselves. The 2005 execution of former gang leader “Tookie” Williams, said to have founded the notorious gang of the ‘crips‘, which has an extensive history of assault, robbery and murder (http://www.tookie.com/abtook.html). This man was convicted with overwhelming evidence of the murder of four persons, some of whom he shot and mocked obscenely. A remorseless man, never one to apologize to the victims of afflicted families was, after being executed, idolized and sympathized by the public with events such as Candlelight vigils, websites like savetookie.org, protests and a media circus ensued trying to prevent the execution– which took place 26 years after the crimes were committed(Balancedpolitics.org, sec. 12). This is just one of many cases, which make a mockery of the evil crimes, such degenerates commit.
Is there really a need for the Death Penalty in the human society? Like the silver lining on the dark cloud, one can see, in an otherwise hopelessly misguided system, there exist, other viable alternatives. The sheer number of less controversial, more reasonable and efficient methods of dealing with atrocious crimes in our society question the very place and existence of the death penalty. Could it be as a means of channeling our collective hatred, confusion and anger; a central point for the darker side of humanity, which originates from the rigorous conditions of our lives? The victims of these barbaric actions are often made scapegoats for our social troubles; it is they, who are blamed, even if the fault is inherent in our social policies and practices. George Orwell, in his book nineteen eighty four, needed but a single Goldstein to sustain his tyrannical; while some of the modern governments need millions.
Given the overwhelming amount of arguments against death penalty, one can easily see that there is little purpose to it other than vengeance. Yet, looking at the number of nations still applying this barbaric and archaic form of punishment, it is hard not to see that our society has sunk to a level so low, that vengeance is acceptable to most. The State copies every disgusting quality of the heinous act of murder; a murder is often committed in anger and is therefore penalized with an execution carried out in resentment; a premeditated murder committed with satisfaction and pleasure is met with a likewise execution. The final result is the same and the feeling with which it is carried out is the same. There are several qualities of the death penalty which even go beyond the moral repugnance of a criminal act of murder. What then is the difference between a murder and an execution? Is it really possible for one form of murder to be correct while another be wrong? Would the same deed, if carried out by two different persons, be at one time abhorrent and barbaric while the other righteous and divine? Most importantly, how can a morally wrongful deed promote the righteousness, let alone the comfortable survival, of the human society? Mutually assured punishment is simply not the solution. This outdated and barbaric eye-for-an-eye form of justice is a savage and eventually senseless way of going about the problem of societal crime.
Why is law-objective and completely free from religious pressures based on such antiquated and savage principles of a God that is more malevolent than divine? Attempting to defeat violence with violence would merely catalyze the proliferation of circumstances, the subsistence of which we claim we are trying to terminate, within our actions and inside our minds. Have thoughtless practices such as these aided humanity in any way by solving any of its problems? What of serenity? Does this have to involve the loss of human life? If only humanity made a collective effort in finding out if we can end the problem instead of delving in delusions of believing that murder is the route to salvation. Such a route to peace does not necessarily have to be paved with blood and that peace bought with the price of murder is naught but an illusion peace, beneath which lies the silence of death.