Thursday, February 09, 2006

Capital Punishment

Last night while we were watching Supernatural, I read to Jim this story. And he said how he knew I was against capital punishment but whoever was responsible should be strung up. And so we got into the usual debate about the death penalty. I just want to know how you feel about this issue? If you are for it I would like you to answer me some honest questions, not because I want to shoot you down, but because I am interested to know how you square certain principles against a belief in the death penalty.

1) Why do you think a country has the right to decide who lives or who dies? Surely no one has that right? (PS the death penalty, abortion and euthanasia all disgust me but abortion and euthanasia are choices made by individuals about their own future and I don't feel we have a right to stop them)
2) If we had the death penalty someone at some time would die an innocent. How do you square this kind of sacrifice of an innocent person with the urge to "punish" some criminal who is worth squat? And how do you feel about a system where hundreds of people would be directly responsible for said innocents death?
3) Death is not a punishment! It does not deter the truely messed up... the paedophiles, the psycho murderers... do you really think the fear of death would stop them from living out their warped fantasies? And I would hope we weren't going to use the death penalty for anything less than the most horrendous of crimes? Death is a release. A life (and yes I believe life should mean life) in prison, as uncomfortable as possible, would be a far better punishment and safeguard against the repition of their crimes.
4) Given that the UK is one of the safest nations in the world and doesn't have the death penalty... is it necessary in any other country??
5) You are all for the death penalty. Could you be the executioner? If not then you cannot be in favour of the death penalty. If you were not prepared to take someones life in that way you shouldn't be prepared to let someone else do it for you. It's one of the real bugbears for me about the death penalty debate; the arm chair executioners. Honestly could you stare someone in the face and kill them, knowing that possibly they were an innocent, someones friend or family... if not step down from the debate!


  1. 1. I'm against the death penalty primarily because someone has to do the killing. The state is asking one person to kill another person. That is what I object to. I don't have much pity for the person comitting the original murder however. If you are of sound mind and commit a premeditated murder in a country that has the death penalty, then you should be willing to take the consequences.

    2. I'm also against assisted suicide. If you want to kill yourself, so be it, but don't involve someone else in the process.

    3. I'm also against abortion beyond the point the fetus could conceivably live outside the womb. The fetus cannot be consulted about whether or not it would like to live or die so you have to assuem they would choose life if at all possible. Again, one person is killing another person in an abortion, beginning at some unknown point in the process. The point of viability is somewhat fuzzy so I would err on the side of caution. If you can't make up your mind in three months about whether or not you want to keep the baby, then I think you are the one that should suffer, not your unborn child. In the case where it's either the life of the mother or the life of the child being at risk, I'd have to go with the mother's wishes simply because she's the only one that can really make a decision at that point in their lives.

    These are not perfect constructions but they're the best I've come up with yet. Hope it gives some food for thought.

  2. Anonymous1:49 pm

    1. The government is given the right to decide such things by the people who elect it. Just as it is given the right to imprison somebody against their will - which, incidentally, could be regarded as a much more reprehensible thing to do, depending on ones personal beliefs.

    2. In any punitive justice system, innocents will sometimes be punished. The system is set up to try to avoid this as much as possible, and those who live by that system accept a certain ratio of mistakes as the price they pay for the benefits the system offers.

    Incidentally, the 'worth' of the person being punished is not the issue - it's the 'worth' of the person or people that they trangressed against which is important in this context. So that part of your emotive argument is particularly weak, probably entirely void in fact.

    3. If you don't think death is a punishment, then you must think life has no value. In which case, your entire case collapses anyway.

    There are two reasons for punishments handed out by a court of law. The first is preventative - to discourage others from doing the same thing that the person being punished did. The second is punitive - to punish the person for what they did.

    I don't agree with you that nobody would be deterred by a death penalty. There are levels of mental sickness, and many of them allow the sufferer to still make fairly good connections between cause and effect. A death penalty would provide a stronger deterrent than a prison sentence, of whatever duration. I agree that it wouldn't stop everyone, but I think it would stop a large percentage of people who would be less concerned by the chance of a prison sentence.

    And then there's also the second purpose of the punishment - purely punitive. The removal of life is the strongest action that can possibly be taken against somebody, because it is so very final.

    While considering this second facet to punishment, it's probably worth remembering that killing the criminal may well reduce the suffering of those affected by the crimes - victims, or their relatives. Vengeance, plain and simple. Whether you consider this a good or bad motive for punishing someone is up to you, but it's not a simple question. Where do you find the balance point between respecting the lives of those who have trangressed, and trying to repair the minds of those who did nothing wrong?

    4. The UK actually has quite a nasty violent crime rate compared to some other countries. For instance, a very cursory search finds these:

    I'm sure there are plenty more facts out there, if you'd care to look for them instead of just making unsustantiated and inaccurate claims.

    5. This is a hopelessly naive and emotive argument. Many people have had to face the fact that a loved pet is in so much pain that ending its life now would be the best thing to do. If they're not willing to kill it themselves, does that mean they have no right to ask a vet to do it for them?

    For what it's worth, I disagree with the death penalty. However, I also disagree with poorly reasoned and highly emotive arguments in important debates - it destroys the credibility of those who are trying to argue the same point from a more defensible position.

    All you've done here is state your own opinions and emotional reactions as though they're some kind of natural law. Unfortunately, other people can and do feel differently about things. There's nothing wrong with your opinions, but they're opinions - not facts. You'd be crucified if you tried to argue this issue in a debate society.

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    It is, as it always has been, rude to leave anonymous comments on a blog.

    It is also rude to suggest 1) that I believe no one else has a right to an opinion different to my own, 2) that I've ever suggested that my debating skills would win in a debate society (as if!) and 3) I was trying to argue, as I was just stating my personal opinions* and hoping to receive some useful feedback from people with differing views. I even said in the post I did not want to shoot anyone down!

    Thank you for the feedback, but maybe next time you'll have the decency to leave your name.



    (thanks Peter for your comment!)

    *where did I state they were facts? I think my readers are grown up enough to know that when I say things on MY blog I don't need to caution them that they are reading my own opinions not facts. My blog is not an encyclopedia entry just as it is not somewhere to launch a serious anti- death penalty debate

  4. Anonymous3:27 pm

    If you don't want anonymous comments, turn off the anonymous comment feature. You don't know me, I followed random links and ended up here, so my name wouldn't mean anything to you anyway.

    You stated a few things as facts rather than opinions, and then based your following points on them. The clearest example is the phrase "Given that the UK is one of the safest nations in the world". Most of your third (numbered) paragraph also commits the same logical fallacy.

    The bit I found most objectionable though was your opinion that if a person couldn't commit state-sanctioned execution themself, then they're not entitled to approve of it or debate it. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, and everybody should be free to discuss and defend those opinions - free speech is an all or nothing affair.

  5. Anonymous4:09 pm

  6. Jae, I wouldnt bother responding any further to mr A, he obviously cant have a rational debate without resorting to personal attacks. Even though I think his comments on the subject matter were well reasoned and intelligent, he let himself and his credibility down when he started getting personal.

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