Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Death Penalty Debate

Some people seem to think that even engaging in the debate around the death penalty restarted by the frankly reprehensible Paul Staines is playing into his hands, but I think it's worth reopening from time to time to remind ourselves just why it is so wrong and why its reintroduction has so consistently been voted down.

I'm going to argue this from a slightly different point of view to a lot of others. A lot of people have argued that the death penalty should not be reinstated for practical reasons, because it doesn't reduce crime and because the danger of a wrongful conviction is made to have so much more dire consequences.These are all valid points, and reason enough to not have the death penalty, but I think there's a much more fundamental reason why we shouldn't have capital punishment in our country, it is morally reprehensible.

The traditional argument goes that for some of the most serious crimes, usually including pre-meditated murder, the criminal has taken away the human rights of another and so does not deserve to keep their own right to life. It seems to me that much of the argument in favour of the death penalty is about exacting revenge, rather than justice, and so to me has no place in a civilised society.

The simplest argument against the death penalty for me is that the arguments in its favour make no logical sense. They start with the premise that killing is morally wrong, that it should be punished, and that it should be punished by killing the criminal. The flaw in that argument should be glaringly obvious. Victor Hugo put it well when he said, "What says the law? You will not kill. How does it say it? By killing!"

If you start with the premise that murder can never be justified, then you cannot end with the idea that murder is a suitable punishment.

As for the argument that murderers have forgone their human rights, I disagree entirely. Either human rights are non-negotiable or they mean nothing at all. I might despise what a particular criminal has done, it might make me sick to the pit of my stomach, but I would like to believe that I can be the better person by not stooping to the level of taking another human life.

I'm not religious, and so don't think life is a gift from some higher power, but I do believe it's pretty incredible. The very fact you or I are alive right now and able to do all the things human beings do is spectacular. I don't think the taking of life can ever be seen as a good thing, regardless of my feelings towards another person.

Surely, we are better as a nation than a primitive tit for tat style of justice, than succumbing to the temptation of 'an eye for an eye'. How are we to claim we value life when we so willingly take it from others. And who amongst us would willingly do the job of the executioner?

Who is more humane, the man who demands the death of another, or this man, who is campaigning for the life of Mark Stroman, who shot him in the face.

As he said, "these crimes were hate crimes, and hate crimes come from ignorance. His execution will not eliminate hate crimes from this world, but we'll simply lose a human life."

That's the kind of society I want to live in, one which tries to better itself, rather than equaling the actions of its lowest members. One which sees the right to life as inalienable, not something to be disposed of when convenient. One which sees the taking of a life as reprehensible, not something to be carried out at the will of the state.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement." - JRR Tolkien


Anonymous said...

Amazing post, I like your writing style.. and specially the way of using rhetorical questions..

A difficult subject. A strong post. well done and keep blogging ;)

Dominic Naylor said...

Hi Chris,

Great post, I agree. The points made in this post are the kind of points I often sight when this debate arises. The death penalty sets a poor example!