Monday, May 20, 2019

Why I'm Not In Favor of the Death Penalty

I’ve stated on Facebook (and may re-post those arguments here later) that I do not see an inherent contradiction between being pro-life and pro-death penalty. That being said, while I am pro-life, I am not an avid proponent of the death penalty, even though I can affirm it in principle.

Here are some reasons I’m not generally in favor of the death penalty, or rather the implementation of the death penalty. These are not necessarily persuasive taken individually, and they are admittedly not equal in weight. The first three, for example, are more pragmatic to my way of thinking and so aren’t automatic game changers. But cumulatively, they make a difference in my mind.

1) The death penalty does not appear to serve as a deterrent against future homicides. The delay between conviction and execution can take decades. This doesn’t seem to be an effective strategy to me. And I’ve heard that studies don’t really provide evidence of the death penalty being a deterrent.

2) The way the legal system works today means that a lengthy appeals process will inevitably put off the day of execution into the far, far future. This creates an exceptional expense for society and burdens all parties involved. I’ve also heard that studies show it’s cheaper for prisoners to serve life terms than go on death row.

3) The death penalty (if its purpose is to remove a person from society) is not necessary (at least in the U.S.) in light of the life-in-prison option. No one in high security, supermax type facilities escapes (that I’m aware of) and life-without-parole effectively does the same thing as putting a person on death row (given that a number of inmates on death row die before their execution date).

4) More weighty in my mind is that the potential for an innocent life to be taken is ever present. In some (many?) murders, the murderer is obvious; the case is open-and-shut. But in some (many?) situations, there may still be reasonable doubt, yet the jury decides to convict. This is a troubling possibility and should be troubling to any thinking person.

5) Which leads to an uncomfortable, and immoral state of affairs. The wealthy in America can generally avoid the death penalty, while the poor cannot. This is just a fact and an indictment on our current system. Do we really want to entrust the process of deciding to end a person’s life to a system rigged in favor of the wealthy?

Now, for me, a strong reason to support the death penalty is that it is the government’s job to remove from society immediate threats to its citizens. In other words, execution is a form of protection and self-defense. Just like when a person defends him- or herself against an imminent threat to his or her life. I am, as a citizen, permitted to defend myself. This may result in the death of someone else. The goal is not to kill, but to keep one’s self, one’s family safe. 

By the same token, a government must keep its society, its nation safe. This perspective acknowledges that all life has value, even the criminal who is being convicted and executed. That person simply forfeited his or her right to life by perpetrating a crime.

That being said, while the ‘government’ has a right to execute such criminals, it really is not the government (a faceless, no person) that is injecting the drugs, flipping the switch, opening the valve, pulling the trigger, or dropping the rope. It is a person or persons doing each of these acts.

So a final (and for now, the last, but not ultimate) reason I’m generally opposed to the implementation of the death penalty (and so also against war itself) is the trauma it causes the executioner. This seems to be a terrible moral burden to place on another human being, the responsibility to end a person’s life. It is a grave matter, and one in which the dark humor of the pun involved is included reluctantly.

Well, I’m sure I have more to say but for now this will do. I’m not tied down to this position 100% - it’s a topic that I will continue to reflect on and develop. I’m interested in your perspective, but not interested in arguing back and forth. If you have rational reflections on this issue, feel free to comment.

Thoughtful regards, Lyn


Note: Some of the above points are addressed by Matt Walsh in a 30-minute podcast from 2015 (see link below). He also includes a few more points: a discussion of the danger of trusting the government with such absolute power, along with the argument that if killing itself is unjust, killing a killer is also unjust (‘two wrongs don’t make a right’). Plus, as a person committed to the pro-life position, Walsh sees an inherent conflict with being pro-death penalty. He tries to explain this biblically, but goes a bit off the rails when he starts talking about OT and NT scripture in the last 5 or 10 minutes. If you have time, take a listen and let me know what you think.

Another thought. Some people like to throw this one up as a kind of gotcha – how can you be pro-life and still be pro-death penalty?

Sure, it may be slightly problematic to be pro-life and pro-death penalty – to hold these views together. I don’t think it’s a logical inconsistency because I believe one can forfeit one’s right to life by committing murder. However, it must be admitted that there are opposing arguments to be considered. For example, if killing is unjust prima facie (as Walsh posits, correctly) then killing the killer is also unjust despite what the killer has done. My initial response to this is that there are differences between murder and killing. But still, I understand the point.

That being said, while pro-lifers need to carefully think through this issue, pro-aborts who are against the death penalty are in a far worse position – they have no leg to stand on and are in complete hypocrisy here. They can not explain how murderers should be saved yet babies can be executed. Theirs is a depraved position. So my response to their ‘gotcha’ is this: When they answer logically how they can be pro- guilty murderer yet anti- innocent child (they can’t), then we can take our turn to answer logically (we can) how one can be pro-life and pro-death penalty at the same time.