Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Price of Life

The title is rather ironic. This article has nothing to do with how much preserving life costs, but rather the opposite: how much ending life costs. I shall not detail the rising costs nor explain why they are going up as this BBC article does it for me, but rather look at the death penalty. I think it is naive to argue that the States in the USA will stop executing people because it has got more expensive (indeed the article does not argue that) - when you have the death penalty in place, the relative cost of it is not really something you considered. Or at least, you would hope that the reason for having the death penalty is not because it is cheaper than keeping a man in prison for life nor the reason for not having it is because it is expensive. Having established that the cost of the death penalty is unlikely to effect whether or not it is kept in place in states such as Texas, it is worth asking the question, "Why is it in place at all?".

I am not so right wing or conservative that I can argue blindly for the death penalty (or torture which is a similar matter) but I can see justification for it, to an extent. I think it is more difficult to justify keeping alive someone who has been convicted of murdering children, for example. You give up certain civil rights when you commit a crime and I have no issues, really, arguing that convicted child murders (especially those with added sexual offences too) should lose the human right to life. You may say "but Texas execute others" but surely this is a punishment that needs to be judged on a case by case basis, as it is indeed done at the moment. So we can establish that some crimes are just so disgusting and heinous that the perpetrators do not deserve to carry on living. It is quite a hard line, but they are called human rights for a reason. I question the extent to which someone who can bring him/herself to murder a child can still be defined as truly human. After all the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article one does read: "They [humans] are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood". You could easily question the extent to which a child murder is endowed with reason, conscience and has acted in the spirit of brotherhood.  Indeed, there are many human rights detailed in that declaration that most would be very quick to deny this sort of criminal - the right to freedom of movement (article 13) for example. 

So we have established that certain crimes can render someone non-human and thus perhaps not entitled to (all) human rights and therefore it is (at least more) justifiable in this case. The big question is, where do you draw the line? When do crimes simply become "terrible" and don't rid someone of their human status? I am, of course, working on (a fair?) assumption that certain crimes can render you non-human. You wouldn't want to say that shoplifting deserved the death penalty, but through 6 steps suddenly it does: 1. Shoplifting, 2. Burglary, 3. Robbery (violent burglary), 4. Robbery whilst home-owner present 5. Robbery and murder of home-owner. 6. Robbery and murder of child in home. It is clear that 1, 2, 3 and 4 are not deserving of the death penalty. But can you distinguish between 5 and 6? Is child murder worse than adult murder? Likewise, few would have a problem with, for example, condemning Hitler (if he were alive) to be executed. Indirectly causing the death of everyone during World War II would definitely render him non-human. But when does quantity stop making a difference? Is setting a bomb off in an Old Peoples Home (where no children die), murdering 1000 any worse than killing 10? 

I am being deliberately unhelpful here because I have no answers. I am happy to accept the premise that there exist certain crimes which render you non-human and therefore eligible for the death penalty and the loss of your right to life. But fitting crimes under this premise is far too hard, indeed impossible. The premise alone cannot justify the death penalty. I am not wholly against the death penalty, I just find it hard to justify to the extent where I believe states should/can use it. 

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