It can be useful to read differing viewpoints on a given topic, so it was with interest that I read the recent letter by Ron Sammonds regarding a moral defense for capital punishment. Although I agree with the sentiment in the quote by T.S. Eliot that was referred to, a more relevant one to me comes from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity.” My rationale for favoring the elimination of capital punishment is not based on the moral high ground that Sammonds addresses, but rather on civic duty.
My focus is on the practical reality that humans are flawed creatures with limitations. It, therefore, follows that any product designed by them will be imperfect, including the criminal justice system. Since the death penalty is obviously irreversible, its finality precludes correcting any erroneous results or decisions within this system. In light of the many cases which have been proven to have resulted in faulty verdicts due to a variety of human frailties, it makes sense that we keep our opportunities for rectification open by abandoning the death penalty as a punishment, particularly when considering the research that it does not act as a deterrent to keep society safe.
Like Sammonds, I feel great compassion for those suffering an intense loss due to criminal behavior, but I also believe that it is vital that we take a calculated step back and engage our intellectual powers to avoid confusing the human need for justice with an emotional need for revenge. Civilized society has progressed over the millennia so that it no longer accepts the validity of “an eye for an eye” approach. That mindset has been replaced by a more empathetic belief in the inherent value and dignity of human life which logically precludes the deliberative killing of other humans, even violent offenders, unless one arbitrarily imagines that a human’s inherent value is relinquished once convicted of committing a heinous crime.
Since none of us has the capacity to be perfect, I believe that none of us is qualified to make the god-like decision that a member of our peers deserves to forfeit their human value. Hence I see no reasonable justification for subjecting another person to execution. The legal ending of a human life will not provide the solace needed to ease the suffering of the survivors of an immoral act, and will only unfairly deprive the accused of an opportunity for redemption, or reversal in the case of a faulty conviction. We have a civic obligation to strive to be more mature than to allow one injustice to provoke another.