Capital Punishment

The use of capital punishment has been a permanent fixture in society since the earliest
civilizations and continues to be used as a form of punishment in countries today. It has
been used for various crimes ranging from the desertion of soldiers during wartime to the
more heinous crimes of serial killers. However, the mere fact that this brutal form of
punishment and revenge has been the policy of many nations in the past does not
subsequently warrant its implementation in today\'s society. The death penalty is morally
and socially unethical, should be construed as cruel and unusual punishment since it is both
discriminatory and arbitrary, has no proof of acting as a deterrent, and risks the atrocious
and unacceptable injustice of executing innocent people. As long as capital punishment
exists in our society it will continue to spark the injustice which it has failed to curb.
Capital punishment is immoral and unethical. It does not matter who does the
killing because when a life is taken by another it is always wrong. By killing a human
being the state lessens the value of life and actually contributes to the growing sentiment in
today\'s society that certain individuals are worth more than others. When the value of life
is lessened under certain circumstances such as the life of a murderer, what is stopping
others from creating their own circumstances for the value of one\'s life such as race, class,
religion, and economics. Immanual Kant, a great philosopher of ethics, came up with the
Categorical Imperative, which is a universal command or rule that states that society and
individuals "must act in such a way that you can will that your actions become a universal
law for all to follow" (Palmer 265). There must be some set of moral and ethical
standards that even the government can not supersede, otherwise how can the state expect
its citizens not to follow its own example.
Those who support the death penalty believe, or claim to believe, that capital
punishment is morally and ethically acceptable. The bulk of their evidence comes from the
Old Testament which actually recommends the use of capital punishment for a number of
crimes. Others also quote the Sixth Commandment which, in the original Hebrew reads,
"Thou Shall Not Commit Murder." However, these literal interpretations of selected
passages from the Bible which are often quoted out of context corrupt the compassionate
attitude of Judaism and Christianity, which clearly focuses on redemption and forgiveness,
and urges humane and effective ways of dealing with crime and violence. Those who use
the Bible to support the death penalty are by themselves since almost all religious groups
in the United States regard executions as immoral. They include, American Baptist
Churches USA, American Jewish Congress, California Catholic Council, Christian
reformed Church, Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church in America, Mennonite General
Conference, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, Northern Ecumenical
Council, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church of America, Southern California
Ecumenical Council, Unitarian/Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the
United Methodist Church (Death Penalty Focus).
Those that argue that the death penalty is ethical state that former great leaders
and thinkers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Kant,
Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Mill all supported it (Koch 324). However,
Washington and Jefferson, two former presidents and admired men, both supported
slavery as well. Surely, the advice of someone who clearly demonstrated a total disregard
for the value of human life cannot be considered in such an argument as capital
punishment. In regard to the philosophers, Immanuel Kant, a great ethical philosopher
stated that the motives behind actions determine whether something is moral or immoral
(Palmer 271). The motives behind the death penalty, which revolve around revenge and
the "frustration and rage of people who see that the government is not coping with violent
crime," are not of good will, thereby making capital punishment immoral according to
ethical philosophy (Bruck 329).
The question of whether executions are a "cruel" form of punishment may no
longer be an argument against capital punishment now that it can be done with lethal
injections, but it is still very "unusual" in that it only applies to a select number of
individuals making the death penalty completely discriminatory and arbitrary. After years
of watching the ineffectiveness of determining who should be put to death, the Supreme
Court in the1972 Furman v. Georgia decision "invalidated all existing death sentence
statues as violative of the Eighth Amendment\'s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and
thus depopulated state death rows of 629 occupants" (Berger