Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"For even the wise cannot see all ends" - A Question Concerning Capital Punishment

Though matters concerning capital punishment are often debated on a basis of pure political and economic thought, when it comes to matters of life and death, such discussions surpass the bounds of political rhetoric. As with all matters of ethics, it is important to examine the intention and motive behind the matter at hand; and this topic is no exception.

A spirit of retribution appears to be the main governing motive behind capital punishment. Yet because it is impossible to restore the life that was lost, capital punishment seems to arrive at an insatiable end. To return death with death is hardly a reasonable solution, for what is accomplished in doing so? What in taking another life rectifies the life already taken? For the life of the victim is not restored, nor does the heart of the convict come to contrition. As the old saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Upon execution under the state, the cause of death stated on the felon’s death certificate is homicide. Homicide is defined as, “the deliberate and unlawful killing of another person.” What one man was sentenced to death for, another is justified under the law, to commit the same offense. By sentencing one to death, one is assuming the authority to violate life. Are we, as human beings, adequate judges of fellow human beings? J.R.R Tolkien provides beautiful insight into such questions. The character, Frodo, in expressing his wish that the creature, Gollum, would have received the penalty of death for his actions, receives this response from the wise wizard, Gandalf: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the wise cannot see all ends.” The very act of sentencing of a criminal admits to our own fallibility as human beings, and the judge and jury are no exception to this reality. In essence, man has no claim to another man’s life, and is not fit to judge otherwise.

However, while we are not worthy judges of who deserve life and who deserve death, this is not to say we should idly regard those who have taken life. Rather, I would argue for a sentence of life incarceration as opposed to the death penalty. Life incarceration prohibits the convict from committing additional offense to society, yet allows more fully for human error in the event that someone be wrongly accused. This alternative, under the appropriate conditions, would aim at a goal of the convict’s repentance rather than a recompense that cannot be fulfilled.

To violate life in any form is to negate the value that life itself holds. Therefore, let us value life and thus do all we can to preserve it.

 This blog post is an official entry for the <a href="http://www.joshuapondlaw.com/scholarship">Law Blogger’s Scholarship</a>, sponsored by The Law Office of Joshua Pond, <a href="http://www.joshuapondlaw.com/">http://www.joshuapondlaw.com</a>.

©Madeleine Stokes 2013