- Published on Thursday, 22 September 2011 06:27
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1985
Everyone thinks that executing someone for a crime is the ultimate penalty - but is it? The alternative in the western world would be imprisonment for life so we are comparing losing one's freedom or losing one's life. If you are religious and believe in an afterlife, the death penalty would be better since you get to heaven earlier (assuming you are forgiven your sins!) But living in a prison for maybe 50 years might be a living hell. If you are the kind of person who doesn't really care about freedom, then prison is not so bad - you get to socialize with your own kind; you get a guarantee of being fed; you might even learn stuff and keep your mind active. But prison could be made worse than death - whether or not you are religious and no matter what you believe. If you are dead, you can't suffer torture or daily torment. Even without that, solitary confinement for life would be close to unbearable and have a prisoner begging to be killed.
Some countries have prisons that would be a fate worse than death. Prisoners in places like Iran, especially women, have no rights and the guards often act accordingly. One prisoner who has lived to tell about it is Marina Nemat. She was tortured almost to death but was released after two years and escaped Iran for Canada where she wrote a book titled "Prisoner of Tehran".
Prisoner of Tehran, Nemat's brilliant 2007 memoir, was at once an exquisite work of art about the burden of memory, and an astonishing story. Nemat details how she was arrested at 16 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards (for the crime of asking her math teacher for more calculus and less religious propaganda); her incarceration in the infamous Evin Prison (where she was beaten and tortured); her forcible marriage to Ali, one of her interrogators (her wedding -night rape graphically described); how Ali died and she lost their baby when assassins opened fire on them one night; how she escaped Iran for a new life in suburban Toronto. For two decades Nemat remained silent about her two years in Evin: her family didn't ask and she didn't tell, not until after her mother died in 2000, never having known her daughter's experiences. That galvanized Nemat to write her story, in an effort to quiet her demons and regain her life.
If such a prison life continued until she died of old age, I am sure she would agree that her fate would be "worse than death". In her case, the death penalty would have been a lot less cruel. And the sad thing is that there are many more people who would agree - they would prefer the death penalty unless there is still some hope. Hope can keep one's morale up; hope means we can look forward to better days. But eventually, it's possible to lose hope.
But in a western prison, unless the sentence is solitary or similar, prison may not be a living hell.
So what can we conclude from this? Depending on the alternative, the death penalty may not be the worst thing that can happen. It may in fact be a merciful release. Our cruel ancestors understood this so when a death sentence was carried out, it was often a very unpleasant death - no lethal injections or electric chairs but instead "hanging, drawing and quartering" or even impaling. (If you really want to know what these are, go Google).
If it's at least debatable, why then do civilized countries do away with the death penalty? Mainly because there is no undoing it - once carried out it's very permanent. This is sufficient reason to not execute anyone. There are many cases of false verdicts. For some examples in the U.S., go here.
There are two other reasons:
- If you are religious, men should not presume to make God's decision for him as to when a life should end;
- If you are atheist, then all one has is one's life. That means that life imprisonment and execution are virtually equivalent and equal punishments although with hope, life imprisonment might be lesser . However, an atheist respects the life of everyone and the greatest crime you can commit is murder, even in the name of the law. Atheists won't quote the cruel god of the Old Testament to justify revenge.
The current case of Troy Davis brings this into focus - there is clear doubt as to his guilt - but there should not be executions in the first place. The fact that it's occurring in the U.S. is a blight on its claim to be civilized. The world watches. He is now dead and can never be brought back.
September 24, 2011
Opinions of Americans
The chart below shows that Americans are gradually losing their support for the death penalty but it is still overwhelmingly supported.
If you talk to supporters and mention how it can't be reversed and how some innocent people have been executed they will say that it should be done with care but they don't easily change their views.
They have more faith in the justice system (of all countries) than I do. And it's not just religious peopole who want to kill murderers etc, it's atheists too. When I say that maybe life imprisonment is worse than dying (or close to as harsh) the response turns to "why should the taxpayer support vile people like Canadian serial killer Paul Bernado". My answer that we don't want to descend to his level does not win anyone over.
To be clear - I am against the death penalty - not necessary, can easily cause an innocent person to be killed and does not respect one of our strongest values - do not murder. Self defence should not intend to kill but death might be an unfortunate result of self defence. Accidental deaths are not murder.
The Catholic Church in the U.S. is on record as being against the death penalty. Download a pdf with their (long) statement here.
Not only that, but apparently the Popes are against it so it seems official. (Catholic Register Canada - only stays as a live link for a few months!)
Looks like their idea of eternal truth that can't be chnaged does in fact change when it suits.