29 June 2006

In re Death Penalty (Tennesseean Editorial)

Here's a link to an editorial that was in the Tennessean on 29 June 2006. In this editorial, the commentator goes on to note how attitudes towards the death penalty and the method of execution has shifted over time. I submit that this observation misses the point.

It is understood that such a shift within our world has transpired. Nevertheless, there are certain crimes that throughout history have universally shocked society's conscience. These crimes are so inherently intolerable that a person of sound mind who commits them should forfeit his right even to subsist in a penal institution. This is so because the crime is not just against the victim or even his or her immediate family. For the same act irreparably and forever damages the very fabric of our society. Premeditated murder easily qualifies as just such an offense.

The writer also suggested that the death penalty is not valid because crime continues. That also misses the point. The question is not wither a certain penalty fully eliminates crimes, because sadly, crime will always be with us. The question is whether a purportedly civilized society is willing to uphold the life of a known murderer, even though that person clearly does not value the life of others. I personally question our level of civilization to the extent we do that.

The above is not to suggest that we must rush to the death chamber or that it is wrong to have years of appeals in a given case. I have no quarrel with the precautions and safeguards that need to be part of the appellate process. My point is that the death penalty must be fair and just...but it must be also certain as to those who are most deserving of it.

A civilized society deserves nothing less.

2 comments:

Jeffrey said...

How we deal with the convicted murderer is an indication of our level of civility. If we seek to return in kind to the killer, it diminishes us and diminishes the value of life in our society. Rather than increase the value of life of the victim, it places the victim on par with the killer and puts us into the shoes of the killer.

Sander J. Rabinowitz said...

Jeffrey, not sure that I agree, mainly for one reason: By choosing a policy that deliberately seeks to lengthen the murderer's life, we effectively value that life greater than we do the life of anyone he or she should come into contact with in the future--and to some extent I would still argue that we value that life more than those of all past victims.

I would distinguish that from the idea of retribution or revenge. If the objective is merely to extract a life for a life, I'm open to the thought that the same demeans us. But my thoughts are towards the protection of sociery and the value of those of us who have chosen to live peacefully and obey the law. --SJR