The death penalty or capital punishment is the planned or premeditated elimination of the life of a human by governmental consent due to a criminal engagement of the legally convicted individual. Heated debates arise from protesters and supporters of capital punishment based on moral grounds. Critics argue that it is a denial of a person’s right to life and violates the sanctity of life itself.
In addition, there is no explanation that may justify the cruelty, torture, and degrading punishment that sometimes surrounds the issue. It is inhumane, differs in standards, expensive, and maybe erroneously applied to innocent individuals. On the other hand, supporters of the issue point out that the death penalty, which is a legal response to capital crimes, is a sure way of showing that life is valuable and teaching the community that killing is a vice. Moreover, it is a deterrent that acts as a reminder to criminals that eliminates harmful individuals in society and can be administered in a humane manner (Hodgkinson & Schabas 3).
Capital crimes are those that are viewed as so heinous that the only punishment suitable for them is death. The capital crimes that warrant the death penalty vary with the judicial practices of different governments. They include treason, murder, theft, homosexuality, rape, assault, drug trafficking, and military misconducts such as desertion, mutiny, insubordination, and cowardice. It is done in different ways, which include lethal injection, beheading, hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, electrocution, among others. All the same, is capital punishment meant to punish, rehabilitate, teach others by example, eliminate harmful people in society, or is it retributive for the victims’ interest? This paper shall put into account this conflict as well as the ethics, practice, and methods of improving capital (Fridell 10).
Capital Punishment as Deterrent
Deterrence is the core debate surrounding capital punishment, especially based on public opinion. For example, it is believed that murderers are executed to discourage others from engaging in such. Retentionists argue that capital punishment has an obvious effect on deterring crime. Conversely, abolitionists assert that murderers are incapable of rational thinking and, therefore, cannot be deterred from committing crimes. This is in support of the fact that most murder crimes are committed in times of intense frustration, fear, hatred, and rage when the murderers have no time to think rationally and are inconsiderate of the consequences.
Other murderers with organized plans of killings think that they cannot be caught since they apply clever tactics. In such a case, the capital penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent. Supporters of the death penalty cannot prove with certainty that it deters crimes. In fact, it is impossible to prove or disapprove of the deterrence effect of capital punishment for both abolitionists and retentionists (Kronenwetter 25). However, if it really is deterrence, then those countries that practice it should be free of capital crimes. The four states (i.e., Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Florida) that practice capital punishment continue to have increased murder rates.
Capital punishment; is it Ethical?
Is there anything like a just punishment? If punishment is designed in a way that every member of the society is entitled to maximum security, then it would be a better place to live in. The criminal justice system should, therefore, ensure that people are deterred from engaging in criminal activities by administering punishments that instigate fear and hence, prevent crime. Those members of society that don’t engage in criminal activities should enjoy security and be sure that they aren’t violated by any punishment. In accordance with the deontological ethics, individuals engaged in crimes are afflicted with guilt and therefore deserve to be punished.
Also, if the perpetrator of a crime had no choice but to commit the crime, it’s unfair to punish him. However, if he had a choice and opted to act in an evil way, there is the justification of the crime, and society owes it to him (Tannsjo 66 & 67).
From a utilitarian perspective, capital punishment remains a pragmatic or a practical issue that has no fixed stance. Simply stated, if maximum security of the society is ensured, then capital punishment should be embraced, and if otherwise, it should be rejected. If euthanasia is the mode administered to a convict, then there is no actual cruelty since knowing they will be executed and aware that they have a short time left for them to live is an ordinary feeling.
For instance, a middle-aged individual who acquires a terminal ailment knows he only has a short time to live before he dies, yet he is not aware of why it happened to him. Convicts, on the other hand, are aware of why they are being executed. From this perspective, capital punishment is not cruel, and utilitarianism’s like J.S Mill believes that it is better than long-term imprisonment. Capital punishment deters the prospects of recommitting capital crimes and saves convicts from committing the crime again.
If capital punishment has no deterrent effect, is it worth embracing? Certainly not, some say, since it may engender more crime as shown by individuals who commit crimes knowing that if arrested, they will be murder convicts and face execution. They kill to be killed as well.
In contrast, deontological ethics render intimately the connection of wrongdoing, guilt, and the ultimate punishment, which is deserved. It’s not meant to improve the future of criminals or society, but its rationale is in the act itself (Tannsjo 68).
The practice of Capital Punishment
Traditionally, capital punishment was done through bloody methods such as crucifixion, burning, burying alive, crushing, or public stoning. It was done even for crimes that would be considered minor, according to current standards. Prior to the French Revolution, members of the aristocracy faced execution by a swift sword, while peasants were subjected to slower, more torturous methods. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin pointed out that everyone should be punished equally and proposed a machine to behead convicts with a heavy blade that hit the back of the neck. The new machine was named a guillotine. It was first used to execute the French queen and king after the monarchy was overthrown by the Revolution.
Most European countries, including France, have abolished capital punishment, but it’s still practiced in the United States. In the US, executions were suspended from 1972 to 1977 when the Supreme Court pointed out, based on the 8th Amendment, that it was not only unconstitutional due to lack of equal standards in different states, but it was also done in a discriminatory way because more blacks were executed than whites (Marzilli 11)
Today, lethal injection is the most common way of executing convicts, especially in the US. It involves injection with the first anesthetic (e.g., Barbiturate) to eliminate pain. This could easily be fatal since it is administered intravenously in high dosage. Second, another chemical (e.g., pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the lungs as well as the diaphragm) is administered to slow breathing. Thirdly, another chemical (e.g., Potassium chloride, which stops the heart beating and causes cardiac arrest) is injected. The victim eventually dies and is declared so according to the medical practice procedures by a competent physician. Capital punishment still triggers heated campaign debates during national, local, and state elections. Application of death sentence has been inevitably used by many countries, including the US, which mostly uses execution mode by use of lethal injection, which is a more humane way of taking away life (Marzilli 12).
Improvement of Capital Punishment
Should capital punishment be removed or improved? The answer to the question is dependent on issues such as public opinion, deterrence, alternative penalties, religion, execution mode, the involvement of a physician, international law, and the rights of individuals. In helping to avoid erroneous executions, DNA analysis could be helpful in determining the factual aspects surrounding a crime. It is essential to collect biological evidence from culprits in a crime scene. Without this, errors cannot be fully ruled out since prosecutors and police may not be able to prove an individual guilty of a crime beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Medical engagement in capital punishment is inevitable. It is common in the administration of lethal injections, the obtaining of organs for transplant, and the psychiatric engagements that take place during executions of the mentally ill. Professionals in the medical field should conduct themselves in manners that are ethical. Medical advice is essential to determine such aspects as the development of evidence and judicial opinions.
Medical professionals who violate ethics in practice should be disciplined accordingly (Hodgkinson & Rutherford, 253). In addition, the convict should be given a choice of the method that he wants to be executed with, and the list should include only those that are humane and have minimal cruelty to the victim. Lethal injection is the best way to execute, and for it to be even more humane, a sedative could be administered to ensure that the victim feels no pain and is not mentally disturbed during the procedure.
Based on moral grounds, capital punishment can be viewed as a violation of the sanctity of life or as the expression of ‘an eye for an eye.’ Others may see it as a valid remedy to the crime, but irrespective of anything else, life itself is sacred, and it’s every human’s right to life. According to my moral intuitions, capital punishment is wrong and should be abolished at any cost. Not only does it disrespect life, but it also exposes modern totalitarianism, medieval fanaticism, and primitive savagery. All humans are entitled to live, which is given naturally, and therefore, should be denied naturally as well (Hodgkinson & Rutherford 11).
Other than the convict to be executed, capital punishment affects the judicial system, immediate family members, those who have to administer the punishment, and the society at large. Strategies for resolving the issue should be aimed at abolishing the death penalty and looking for alternative ways at a national and an international scale.
Fridell, Ron. Capital Punishment. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. 2004. Print.
Hodgkinson, Peter and Rutherford, Andrew. Capital Punishment: Global Issues and Prospects. Winchester: Waterside Press. 1996. Print.
Hodgkinson, Peter and Schabas, William. Capital Punishment: Strategies for Abolition. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 2004. Print.
Kronenwetter, Michael. Capital Punishment. 2 Ed. Santa Barbara, California: ABC- CLIO, Inc.
Marzilli, Alan. Capital Punishment. 2 Ed. New York: InfoBase Publishing. 2008. Print.
Tannsjo, Torbjorn. Understanding Ethics: An introduction to Moral Theory. Edinburg: Edinburg University Press Ltd. 2006. Print.