The Many Fridays


BY ELIZABETH THOMSON

This week seems to be timely for a blog on the death penalty. After all, yesterday was the celebration of one of history's most famous capital punishment cases. Christians celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. For me, Jesus' death has always triggered these questions: Who "deserves" to die, and who decides?

Over millennia, the death penalty has been used for any crime under the sun: philosophy, such as with Socrates; theft; falsely accused witchcraft; murder. Executing murderers I understand, especially when you are in a situation where the state cannot sufficiently contain a dangerous person. However, in the United States, we have capable prison systems. This becomes especially interesting when those in favor of death penalty have said to me, "Most people on death row do not wind up executed anyway." Then what is the point of having it?

Which brings me to a third question: is capital punishment about justice or security? Until we answer that question, it is difficult to defend either position. If justice: Does death ultimately rectify a situation? Is it real satisfaction for injury? On a practical level, would not death be more bearable than state prison? It fascinates me that death is seen as "mercy" in some situations, like in euthanasia or abortion. When it comes to capital punishment, it is seen as justice. I have heard the argument, "I am for the death penalty because I believe life is sacred, and that a person who murders should be put to death for violating that." That particular argument is the most puzzling.

If the purpose of capital punishment is security: Is it necessary for the common good? Are there more ethical ways of securing society?

When I was a teenager, I read an article written by a journalist observing someone put in the gas chamber. The journalist wrote that he was oddly calm, and when he was put in the seat, he did not fight. Usually, the journalist wrote, criminals fight the chair, but he did not start to convulse until the gas began. I do not remember which case it was, or the name of the article, but I remember the description being so vivid that within the half hour I spent reading it, I adopted such a strong reaction that I switched from pro-death penalty to against. The idea that we kill people for a sense of satisfaction becomes unnerving when we consider that those in favor of the death penalty argue that those who most "deserve to die" are murderers.

I am not going to get into concrete cases of innocence, etc., to defend my stance against the death penalty. "Innocence" of a given crime is less of this entry’s concern: right now it comes down to the ethics of deliberately, and without necessity, killing another human being.

#capitalpunishment

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