Morality has been defined as “The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.” (thefreedictionary). The morality of capital punishment is a contested issue that frequently polarises people’s views. Nevertheless, in 2011 with the world moving towards global civilisation and human rights, it is arguable that it can never be acceptable to sentence an individual to death.
A chief argument against capital punishment is based around the value of life. Most people think human life to be of value and many abolitionists believe it to be so treasured that even the most ruthless murderers should not have their lives taken.
Some abolitionists are less confident about this position. Some feel that life should be maintained unless there is substantial reason not to, and that the burden of validation is on supporters of capital punishment (capital).
Strict abolitionists argue that all people have a human right to life and that sentencing an individual to death is a breach of his basic human rights. The opposing argument is that a person who commits first degree murder is conscious of their wrong doing and is forfeiting any rights they have. A familiar case against capital punishment is that there are bound to be errors within the justice system and that, as a result, innocent people will be put to death. Mistakes can be made by jurors, prosecutors and witnesses, and if the death penalty has been carried out there is no opportunity to correct the mistakes.
Many people think the concept and the practice of retribution to be morally flawed. They view that demonstrating killing as wrong by implementing a second killing is unethical.
Conversely, capital punishment supporters argue that in order for justice to work effectively, criminals need to suffer for their crime proportionately. If maintaining this rule, it seems sensible that a murderer should be punished with his own death. Many people who are undecided about their views on capital punishment find that this idea sits well with their intrinsic sense of justice. This particular argument in support of retribution is often backed up with the “an eye for an eye” reasoning. Nonetheless, using this quote from the Old Testament in fact shows a misunderstanding of the concept. The Old Testament meaning of “an eye for an eye” essentially connotes that a guilty person should be punished but not too harshly.
On the other hand, some abolitionists oppose the death penalty as they deem it isn’t a retribution enough. They argue that life imprisonment induces much more distress than a short imprisonment followed by an easy death. A valid question when evaluating the ethical suitability of the death sentence is whether it actually deters crime. Evidence suggests that it doesn’t; what appears to deter crime is the likelihood of being found out and convicted. Social scientists tend to agree that the success of the death penalty as a deterrent is unconfirmed. In 1988 a survey was piloted for the UN to decide the correlations between the death penalty and rates of homicide. This was updated in 1996. It concluded:
“...research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming…The key to real and true deterrence is to increase the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction. The death penalty is a harsh punishment, but it is not harsh on crime” (Death Penalty).
Irrespective of moral and ethical views regarding capital punishment, it is debatable that to cause such a degree of suffering to the criminal is bordering on torture, and is therefore, fundamentally wrong.
Certain means of execution are clearly likely to cause some suffering. Some examples are execution by electrocution, strangulation and lethal gas. Some alternative methods, such as firing squads and beheading have been forbidden because they were thought too brutal, or because the involvement of the executioner was too close.
Nowadays, many countries choose the lethal injection method as it is believed to be less harsh for both the executioner and the offender. However, there are well-known flaws with this method, including that a medical professional needs to be involved in the actual process of killing, and this contradicts with the ethics of a medical professional. Capital punishment provokes debate in the U.S. and all over the world. The ethical concerns for and against capital punishment are plentiful, ranging from philosophies regarding the value of life to the concept of justice and retribution.
However, the possible levels of disagreement within a courtroom is a concern. If a decision cannot be made solidly over an question as major as this one, then there should be no prospect of an individual being sentenced to death in spite of it.
It is strange that America, one of the most highly respected nations in the world, can still be allowing this out-dated tradition of crime punishment. Thinking more globally, the answer is the same. In these times of civilisation and politics, there cannot possible be a situation where implementing the death penalty is acceptable.
“Capital Punishment”. BBC Ethics. Web. 20 March. 2011.
“Death Penalty”. Amnesty International. Web. 20 March. 2011.
“Morality”. The Free Dictionary. Web. 20 March. 2011.