Death Penalty Ethics

by Violet

Amnesty International is one of my favourite non profit organisations, and I have tremendous respect for the work they do to defend human rights and their letter writing campaigns to help prisoners of conscience around the world. I was an intern there for six months, around the time they were developing Trial By Timeline, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already.

One of Amnesty’s biggest campaigns is against the death penalty. “The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.”

While this all makes sense to me, I also believe that there are truly evil people in this world, and some wrongs cannot be righted. I support the procedural argument against the death penalty, but not so much the ethical one.

The procedural argument is that human beings are flawed, and thus, so are human institutions.  Even if we agree that some people deserve to die, the State is incapable of reliably making those determinations.  So procedurally, the Death Penalty can never be effectively implemented without an intolerable risk of injustice.

The ethical argument against the Death Penalty is different.  The ethical argument claims that even if we could reliably determine the guilt of persons accused of Capital Crimes, the Death Penalty should still be abolished, because all human beings have fundamental human dignity and inherent value.  Nobody is capable of forfeiting their inherent value through their actions or omissions.

That’s the fundamental difference between someone who supports the Death Penalty, and someone who wants it abolished on ethical grounds.  A person who wants the Death Penalty abolished needs to be able to look the killer of a loved one in the eye with a straight face, and say “you don’t deserve to die.”

Letters To My Country

I understand the ethical argument, but I don’t agree with it. I think some people are capable of incredible cruelty, and some crimes are so heinous that the culprit is deserving of a slow painful death, not a quick lethal injection. But I’ve always been a little morally bankrupt. 

What about you? What is your stance on the death penalty?