A Matter of Life and Death

March 10, 2008

By its very nature, the death penalty is a tough thing to sell.  It puts the life of the accused in the hands of his peers.  Anytime it is done, you can be sure that decision will be highly contested.   As a result, the question has moved more from a legal one (for the Constitution clearly states that life can be deprived, if due process is given) to an ethical one: is it ever morally permissible for human beings to take life?   

The New York Times came out with an article today concerning the use of the death penalty that says it’s not.  More and more cases, the Times says, are coming before federal juries in the State of New York as prosecutors continue to request civic action.  The problem is, juries are refusing to sign off on the matter.  This sentiment has been paralleled by Supreme Court, which last year issued stays on behalf of all death row inmates, pending the adjudication of a Kentucky case stemming from this incident:

“Ralph Baze is on Kentucky’s death row because in January 1992 he used an SKS assault rifle to ambush a sheriff and his deputy when they arrived at his house to arrest him.

He shot the sheriff three times in the back. The deputy returned fire until he ran out of bullets. When the lawman tried to retreat, Mr. Baze shot the deputy twice in the back. As the deputy lay on the ground bleeding, Baze walked up to him and shot him in the back of the head.”

One must ask themselves the question: had the deputy been able to kill his assailant then, would it have been morally justified?  The answer is yes.  Justice demands retribution; he would have been justified in protecting himself.  And while some argue violence begets violence, it can also been an incentive to refrain from breaking the law.

For the wise parent does not spare their child the rod.  They teach them, rather, that their bad choices demand equally strigent punishments.   The consequence, in effect, becomes a deterrent for future bad behavior.  And younger siblings who observe the reformed behavior of the older are more likely to follow their example, both out of love and fear of retribution. 

While the death penalty is highly contested, it must still be an option left on the table.  The taking of life is a terrible thing, but if taking the life of a guilty man bears even the small hope of saving an innocent, so be it.  To remove the option altogether would be entirely irresponsible on the part of our Federal Government.  It would be an affront to justice herself.


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