Saturday, September 3, 2011

Death Penalty Dilemma

John Grisham was apparently successful in his desire to bring attention to the death penalty –at least in my case. After finishing The Confession, I must admit I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. And, I find myself torn. Part of me thinks that the death penalty is cruel and arrogant and leaves no room for human error. Another part of me has a problem with caging people like animals and having my tax dollars spent on room, board and recreation for individuals who are unsafe to society. Is there some sort of compromise? Is there a rational, humane answer to this dilemma?

My gut reaction to the idea of state run executions is that killing is wrong. In the ten basic rules for civilized living this is stated clearly – Thou shalt not kill. Seems pretty simple. On the other hand, my gut reaction to evil is that it must be eradicated. Not tolerated or condoned, not shut away in some sort of Pandora’s Box; it must be destroyed. And there is little doubt in my mind that there are evil people out there. Whether the result of nature or nurture, some people are twisted and cruel and do not belong in society. The safest and, in a way, kindest thing that can be done for these folks is to execute them. We don’t hesitate to put down a rabid animal, and evil people have a kind of rabies of the soul. Is it really wrong to put them out of their misery? And ours?

The problem here is to diagnose the evil. Who can do this? Humans cannot know the souls of others. How does one tell the difference between a sickness of the soul and a sickness of the psyche? And how does the act of levying judgment on another person affect the one doing the judging. This seems like a very dangerous thing for the psyche and soul of the judge. And, if passing judgment can have an adverse effect on one, how much more adverse the effects of carrying out the execution. It seems to me that allowing for the death penalty perpetuates the evil it is meant to eradicate.

However, does keeping evil doers as indefinite wards of the state solve the problem? I think not. The evil still exists and has the opportunity to perpetuate itself, both among the incarcerated community and, more frighteningly, among the warders. In addition, there is the heavy burden placed upon the rest of society for their keep. From my point of view, we all lose this way too.

I don’t have a good solution for this dilemma. I’ve never encountered anyone else who does either.

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