The debate over the death penalty continues to confront our society. The proponents of capital punishment believe that the death penalty serves as the ultimate justice and that it will, in the end, deter murderers and promote the sacredness of human life. Opponents of the death penalty view it as harsh, unfair, and contradictory. They see hypocrisy in punishing murder by engaging in murder. They believe that the best remedy is to show respect for human life by not engaging in state-sanctioned killing. In the end, both sides have powerful arguments that support their cases. The anti-death penalty argument, ultimately, is founded on flawed assumptions, because it ultimately trivializes human life by not taking a firm stand on it. This is an imperfect world, and there are no perfect solutions to murder, but the least society can do is take a “zero tolerance” position on the taking of human life.
The proponents of the death penalty argue that it is the only real justice when it comes to dealing with murder. Their premise is that we live in a world where there are certain moral absolutes that have to be enforced. One of these absolutes is the sacredness of human life. Anyone that takes a human life, therefore, should be dealt the harshest punishment we can conceive of — which is death. Ultimately, death penalty proponents believe that there is absolute evil, and that society must therefore deal with it in the most firmest way. The only punishment that fits the crime of taking a life is the killer’s loss of life. The punishment, in other words, must fit the crime. (Gelernter)
Supporters of the death penalty contend that moral values do
not exist on their own. They must be promoted and supported by the society at large, just like a car needs to be maintained, or a farmer’s soil needs to be fertilized. Capital punishment reminds everyone that our society holds life sacred and that it will not tolerate murder. It therefore not only stands up for certain values, but it deters potential murderers. Capital punishment, therefore, is not only a deterrent in the direct sense in that it reminds murderers that they will lose their life if they kill. It is a deterrent in the sense that it teaches all people in society that human life is sacred and that taking it will forfeit one’s own life. In this way, a moral value is nurtured in society at large and prevents people from considering murder in the first place. (Gelernter)
Overall, proponents of the death penalty argue that society
has an obligation to punish the murderer by executing the murderer. It is the least society can do for the victims of murder. The victim, in the end, is the one that deserves justice. Society must state that murder is intolerable by carrying out justice for the victim through taking the killer’s life. Killing is intolerable, and if it is intolerable, than society must not tolerate it.
Opponents of the death penalty believe it is a contradiction
that society must kill to teach against killing. They argue that it is nonsensical to punish murder by carrying out state-sponsored execution.
Capital punishment, in their perspective, dehumanizes human life just as equally as the convicted murderer. It teaches to kill. In their perspective, therefore, we cannot build a better society on the principle of murder and revenge. Indeed, how do we teach respect for human by taking life? If we are appalled by murder, how can we murder under the banner of justice. Surely this is hypocritical. (Dicks, p.95)
Death penalty opponents also argue that the death penalty does not deter crime. Moreover, it can take the life of the innocent, since there have been many wrongfully convicted people that have been on death row. (Dicks, pp.146-157) Thus, opponents argue that it is possible that the death penalty may kill innocent victims. In their eyes, if one innocent person dies, the death penalty is not worth it. Thus, the death penalty does not prevent the taking of innocent human life, it only increases the chances of the taking of innocent life for the sake of revenge — which will also not fix anything. (Dicks, p.17)
Overall, opponents of the death penalty do not think that capital punishment is fair, nor that it can be applied fairly. It is simply just judicial murder. Life imprisonment is better, because it holds life sacred and allows criminals to make amends. (Dicks, pp.168-169) In this view, society cannot teach against killing by instituting state killing. There has to be non-lethal punishment, so that the punishment can reflect good values rather than the values that it is trying to punish. Society must, instead, focus on teaching that no one is irredeemable, and that repentance and forgiveness is possible. By focusing on the value of human life, the state should not take life but nurture it. (Dicks, p.97)
The arguments opposing capital punishment may sound persuasive and logical but they are ultimately specious and flawed. The argument that an innocent person might die on death row avoids the entire issue altogether. It evades the subject of what to do with proven murderers. The case is different if there is reasonable doubt. Then capital punishment can be put on hold because there has to be precaution in every case of the death penalty. But what we are talking about is what to do with proven murders — the obvious cases. Opponents argue that capital punishment is revenge and that revenge serves no purpose. But saying this does not make it true. Capital punishment can be seen as revenge, but it is not revenge; it simply capital punishment of a capital offense. Opponents’ argument that capitalpunishment does not deter murderers is meaningless. It is, ultimately, better to send a message that there is a price to pay for murder, than to send no message at all.
There will never be a perfect system, but to abolish the death penalty because of a fear of a mistake will cause more victims, decrease values, and trivialize human life. We cannot be indifferent to murder, and if we are, than the fabric of our society will disintegrate. Certain moral absolutes and values have to be enforced. One of these is the sacredness of human life. By not taking the life of a murderer, we trivialize our view of human life. The victim must be our focus, not the killer. The ultimate justice is that the victim’s victimization is honoured with an appropriate response. Anyone considering the taking of a human life must be aware that they will pay the highest price by a society that honours the sacredness of human life.