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Is the Death Penalty Murder or Justice?

I think that maybe the implementation of the death penalty brings several questions immediately to mind. When is it a correct decision to take a human life? Is lifetime incarceration a better choice for a convicted killer? What if the person in question has willfully taken several lives? Does the punishment fit the crime?

Whether or not the Bible is the word of an all powerful deity or just a historically motivated text, the ten commandments do contain a world of wisdom, especially the one that categorically states “do not kill”. It doesn’t say “do not kill except for the following reasons.” One might argue that taking a life in self defense or in the case of a soldier fighting for his country is justified. But what about the person who goes into a bar, knowingly has too much to drink, and then takes a life or lives in a car accident? Isn’t that in a sense premeditated murder? Does that person deserve the death penalty? Or, is it the murderer who kills out of vindictiveness, jealousy, anger or hated that deserves a chemically induced end to his or her life? Is there really a difference? Is there any guarantee that the man or woman who got drunk and operated an automobile isn’t going to do it again?

Humankind has certainly come a long way from the days of gladiators and human sacrifice, but we still are pretty much intent on killing one another-- whether it be through wars, acts of violence or preventable accidents. But, the fact does remain that all of us are going to die someday. It may be tomorrow or a year from now or twenty or thirty years or more, but it is definitely an experience we do not have the understanding nor the technology to avoid.

When a person dies they still leave a legacy behind for the living. And, we, the loved ones of that person cherish those memories. Would we love our children any less if they got drunk and killed somebody or got angry and shot another human being? We wouldn’t approve of their action but a part of us would still remember them as a sweet baby, a curious toddler, and a rebellious teenager. Does the family of a convicted killer really love them any less and would the loss of their child, brother, father, mother, sister, hurt them any less than it would the family of the victims?

So, who really gets hurt in the case of corporal punishment? The convicted killer suffers the knowledge that he is going to be killed. But, his death is actually not an overly painful process. He is given a lethal injection, goes to sleep and is gone. It is his family that suffers. Does his death bring back the victim? Does it make the suffering the victim’s family goes through any less in the long run? Does one death justify or demand another?

Granted, the individual doing the killing needs to be incarcerated for the safety of all, including him or herself. And, that may well be for a lifetime. But, during that lifetime the rehabilitation process starts, and hopefully works on some level. If not, the convicted killer must remain a ward of the state and that does prove to be a costly investment. But, is the death penalty truly a viable alternative? Is there another answer? What would that be?

Happy Ponderings…


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