The ethics of the death penalty is a very controversial issue. In these paragraphs I have made an effort not to convey my own beliefs and opinions but to speculate on ideas that carry some significance and will make you, the reader, consider the weight of these issues. I have attempted to ask questions that hopefully will trigger some reflection on your part when it comes to the morality of the death penalty from a legal standpoint and also a religious one.
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi taught us that violence should not be and cannot be resolved with more violence. A number of convicts, while imprisoned for their crimes, find a higher (or supreme) power, genuinely learn to feel regret or remorse for their actions, and many even become rehabilitated and learn to positively contribute to their society. If this is the case then in taking someone’s life because of their actions are we not taking the chance of destroying the potential that that individual may have when it comes to their contributing to society? Very often these individuals do reform themselves and can, and will, make a positive difference in the world. It is also true that many of these people do not consider the acts they have committed as being malevolent and will not change their ways because they truly do not see the wrong in their actions.
The death penalty is not seen as a crime because it is not illegal in the eyes of our justice system. Not only does our justice system tell us that it is okay to execute those who have committed heinous crimes but it gives us guidelines and different methods to execute these people. Is this not, in and of itself, just as brutal and barbaric as the crime committed by the convict?
Many of those that believe in the death penalty only focus on the convict and his malicious acts, the victim, and the victim’s family. Very rarely do we consider the families of the convicts. One family may have been destroyed due to his actions but does that make it okay for our government to destroy another family by executing that individual? On the other hand people do believe that capital punishment is just because they feel secure in knowing that this individual will never walk the streets again and that their communities and its citizens will be safer.
Commandment five of the Ten Commandments states “thou shall not kill.” If this is the law, according to structured religion, is it not a moral sin to put someone to death? If we are killing people that have committed crimes, whether those crimes are worthy of death or not, are we not playing God’s will for us? Everyone has a different idea of what is moral and what is not. But if we are looking at the ethics of the death penalty from a religious point of view then murder is murder. This is not to say that the Bible does not contain several references that are pro-capital punishment. One well-known example comes from Genesis 9:5-6 which states, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”
Bedau, Hugo A. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? USA: Oxford UP, 2005.
Gerber, Rudolph J. The Top Ten Death Penalty Myths: The Politics of Crime Control. Portsmouth, NH: Praeger Publishers, 2007.
Bedau, Hugo A. The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies. USA: Oxford UP, 1998.
The Bible; New International Version.