Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The death penalty

To me, the problem with the death penalty is really twofold.  First and foremost is reversability.  We live in a world of imperfect justice, in which people get away with crimes and people are convicted of crimes they didn't commit. About a hundred people on death row have been exhonorated in the last twenty years.  A hundred people could have died for no reason.  Thanks to ever-improving forensic techniques, the success rate of proving or disproving crimes is increasing dramatically.  But until it is 100%, without fail, I could never even consider supporting the death penalty.  This isn't jail.  It isn't even caning.  It is killing, and the dead just don't come back, regardless of what they taught you in Sunday school.  I think that if an executed person is later found innocent, those responsible for sentencing him should be tried for manslaughter.

However, assume that advances in forensic science do reach the 100% certainty level.  While I don't see that happening, it's not inconceivable, though certainly decades away.  Then my second objection to the death penalty would still apply: the good that would come from killing the convict would not be worth the bad.  I don't believe in karma, but I do believe that in order to distinguish the good from the bad there must be a difference between them.  Killing should always be a last resort, done only when there is no other choice.  There is another choice for murderers, even psychopaths: life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Killing them only makes the loved ones of the victims feel better, and I believe that "feeling better" is not sufficient reason to take a life. 

I had a bit of a debate with somebody on the VeggieBoards (a vegetarian message board I enjoy) first about President Bush but now about the death penalty.  I use the term "debate" loosely since he didn't do much more than attack strawmen, but it inspired me to write about it.  Read the thread here, if you like.


  1. Other issues I have with the death penalty:

    There is a SEVERE class and race bias to the system. It's like you said, even if forensic evidence was 100% accurate in who did what to whom, the race/class of the victim as well as the race/class of the suspect almost always plays a role in the Death Penalty.

    This is one of my last reasons but I also think it's just too expensive. And honestly it needs to be that expensive because people need to have the appeal process as extensive as possible when they are on the road to state sponsored murder. The money we waste by killing convicts could be used in any number of other more productive ways.

    Also, there are a number of victim's families who are strongly against the death penalty. And many who support later reveal that killing the murderer/rapist/whoever didn't bring them any pleasure or any closer to having closure.

  2. One thought I had, and I know this is a little "out there."

    I have no problem with suicide, or even assisted suicide. It would not bother me, ethically, to allow the prisoner the option of choosing death rather than life in prison. There are a number of devices developed for euthanasia that would be applicable. The most well known is the Kevorkian machine, which is basically a voluntary version of the lethal injections used for executions anyway. After an IV is inserted, the person pushes a button that starts the flow of thiopental that puts them out, and after a certain period of time automatically releases potassium chloride and stops their heart. Nobody kills the inmate but themselves.

  3. I don't see a problem with suicide for people who are terminally ill. I guess to some level for anyone for that matter, but I don't know.

    The only reason I see that the "inmate suicide" option would never work is, people would see that as giving the inmate too much power.

    Not that people don't kill themselves in prison anyway.