The Right to take a Life, part 2

The right to take a life is something I’ve wrestled with since childhood. Some of the issues are included in the previous article, and this is a continuation.

Many years ago I met a high-ranking UK politician, the top legal adviser to the then Prime Minister. He had been a barrister and a judge, and had been involved in some trials when the death penalty had been passed (the last UK executions being in 1964). He talked about the atmosphere in the courtroom at the moment of sentencing, and the horrific emotion that welled within him and others present. From a humanitarian standpoint he told me he had concluded that the death penalty was simply wrong. And this came from a legal mind.

However a few decades later he had changed his mind, and was part of a pro capital punishment movement. One can only speculate why, presumably age had blunted his emotions and he now viewed the issue more coldly. If an eminent lawlord can change his mind it underlines the dilemma for the rest of us.

So where does that leave us? Where we started? Not quite. I guess it all goes to show that we should follow both our head and our heart.

For what it’s worth I’ve finally come to my own conclusion. I would support capital punishment, but with some caveats: firstly it would be only for the most evil of crimes, eg mass murder, and secondly there can be no doubt as to the perpetrator. Of course there must be a fair trial, and a mandatory appeal.

In addition I would respect others’ views and not be too proud to never change my mind.

The Right to take a Life

There is no gray area with the Death Penalty. Death or life. Nothing in-between. After decades of thought I am yet to reach a decision as to how I feel about capital punishment.

Does society have the right to take the life of a fellow human? Or are some acts so evil that death for the perpetrator is just? This is the nub of the issue, but deeper consideration only makes the dilemma more complicated.

  • There is the question of what offenses should warrant the death penalty.
  • The chances are that, over time, innocent persons are mistakenly executed.
  • More chillingly there is also the possibility of innocent persons being deliberately executed.
  • It takes a great deal of tax-payers’ money to keep a prisoner for life, money which could well be spent on keeping other people alive.
  • Without the death penalty would the deterrent for serious crime be eroded?
  • In the case of murderous dictators, for example, would it not be preferable to execute them, rather than leave the possibility open for their influence to remain and fester, perhaps causing more hardship and death.
  • What about euthanasia?

Is there any evidence to suggest that countries with the death penalty experience less serious crime than those with? Sadly there appears to be no compelling evidence either way, there are too many other factors involved. However it could perhaps be argued that countries without the death penalty do not experience significantly higher rates of serious crime.