Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Capital Punishment

Until recently, my view on capital punishment was purely pragmatic: serving the death penalty costs more to the state than life in prison, and it's not effective as a deterrent. But two movies I saw recently made me think a little more about death.

You Don't Know Jack is about Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Death. It's very one-sided, but they certainly don't leave out his character flaws. He makes some good points in there, like that when someone says they're going to "pull the plug," that often means removing a feeding tube, so the patient starves to death. I'm pretty sure that counts as cruelty. He's right, people should be able to choose when and how they die (barring any terrible accidents), and the state shouldn't interfere. Assisted suicide should be legal, though it should be regulated (requiring a license and inspections) to avoid the unprofessional way that Kevorkian resorted to doing it.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is a true story that takes place in Iran. Soraya's husband Ali wanted a divorce, and she wouldn't agree because she wouldn't be able to provide for her children. So Ali framed her for adultery, and she was stoned. It's very hard to watch. I know this is a completely different situation from capital punishment in the US, but I wonder how someone from a more progressive culture would see our situation? It doesn't seem right for the government to sanction someone's death, even in extreme situations.

Connecticut has the death penalty. Steven Hayes recently received it for his part in the rape and murder of a Cheshire family. The killer of Annie Le, the Yale med student whose body was found in a lab utility closet last year, may also get it. I wonder if the families of these victims feel any better about the situation. It doesn't bring their loved ones back, and although they may feel it's justified, there must be something inside them that says more death won't solve anything.


  1. Kenny7:25 PM

    If they are put to death, at least you know they can never hurt anyone again. It does cost more to put someone to death, we should be like the Chinese and use a bullet and then charge the family. That would cost way less than all those drugs they use. We can talk about this more over the phone if you would like, but to be honest I don't think you can explicitly say you will never want the death penalty inflicted on someone until you have someone close to you murdered and a person standing trial for it. Not that I would wish that on you, just that it doesn't seem like a rational discussion, just an emotional one with no real right answers.

  2. The major costs of the death penalty are legal costs, not the actual execution.

    I can see how a victim's family could want their murderer killed. But should the victim's family really be allowed to choose the punishment? I'd imagine that a rape or assault victim might also want their attacker killed. I think there's a reason the victim doesn't choose the punishment (lack of objectivity), and we shouldn't use their opinions to determine sentencing. That is, the death penalty should not be levied based on revenge, or "an eye for an eye".

    Regarding the argument that a dead person can never kill again, the same is true of life in prison. I don't think anyone is afraid Charles Manson is going to be released and go on a murder streak.