Capital Punishment: Against


The use of capital punishment has been a permanent fixture in society since
the earliest civilizations and continues to be used as a form of punishment in
countries today. It has been used for various crimes ranging from the desertion
of soldiers during wartime to the more heinous crimes of serial killers.
However, the mere fact that this brutal form of punishment and revenge has been
the policy of many nations in the past does not subsequently warrant its
implementation in today's society. The death penalty is morally and socially
unethical, should be construed as cruel and unusual punishment since it is both
discriminatory and arbitrary, has no proof of acting as a deterrent, and risks
the atrocious and unacceptable injustice of executing innocent people. As long
as capital punishment exists in our society it will continue to spark the
injustice which it has failed to curb.
Capital punishment is immoral and unethical. It does not matter who
does the killing because when a life is taken by another it is always wrong. By
killing a human being the state lessens the value of life and actually
contributes to the growing sentiment in today's society that certain individuals
are worth more than others. When the value of life is lessened under certain
circumstances such as the life of a murderer, what is stopping others from
creating their own circumstances for the value of one's life such as race, class,
religion, and economics. Immanual Kant, a great philosopher of ethics, came up
with the Categorical Imperative, which is a universal command or rule that
states that society and individuals "must act in such a way that you can will
that your actions become a universal law for all to follow" (Palmer 265). There
must be some set of moral and ethical standards that even the government can not
supersede, otherwise how can the state expect its citizens not to follow its own
example.
Those who support the death penalty believe, or claim to believe, that
capital punishment is morally and ethically acceptable. The bulk of their
evidence comes from the Old Testament which actually recommends the use of
capital punishment for a number of crimes. Others also quote the Sixth
Commandment which, in the original Hebrew reads, "Thou Shall Not Commit Murder."
However, these literal interpretations of selected passages from the Bible which
are often quoted out of context corrupt the compassionate attitude of Judaism
and Christianity, which clearly focuses on redemption and forgiveness, and urges
humane and effective ways of dealing with crime and violence. Those who use the
Bible to support the death penalty are by themselves since almost all religious
groups in the United States regard executions as immoral. They include,
American Baptist Churches USA, American Jewish Congress, California Catholic
Council, Christian reformed Church, Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church in America,
Mennonite General Conference, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA,
Northern Ecumenical Council, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church of
America, Southern California Ecumenical Council, Unitarian/Universalist
Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (Death
Penalty Focus).
Those that argue that the death penalty is ethical state that former
great leaders and thinkers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin
Franklin, Kant, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Mill all supported it
(Koch 324). However, Washington and Jefferson, two former presidents and
admired men, both supported slavery as well. Surely, the advice of someone who
clearly demonstrated a total disregard for the value of human life cannot be
considered in such an argument as capital punishment. In regard to the
philosophers, Immanuel Kant, a great ethical philosopher stated that the motives
behind actions determine whether something is moral or immoral (Palmer 271).
The motives behind the death penalty, which revolve around revenge and the
"frustration and rage of people who see that the government is not coping with
violent crime," are not of good will, thereby making capital punishment immoral
according to ethical philosophy (Bruck 329).
The question of whether executions are a "cruel" form of punishment may
no longer be an argument against capital punishment now that it can be done with
lethal injections, but it is still very "unusual" in that it only applies to a
select number of individuals making the death penalty completely discriminatory
and arbitrary. After years of watching the ineffectiveness of determining who
should be put to death, the Supreme Court in the1972 Furman v. Georgia decision
"invalidated all existing death sentence statues as violative of the Eighth
Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment and thus depopulated state death
rows of 629 occupants" (Berger 352). This decision was reached not because it
was believed that the death penalty was intrinsically cruel and unusual but
because, as Justice Stewart put it, the