Sunday, 17 December 2006

Ethics in America: lethal injection under scrutiny; punishment and religion

I have already stated my opinion on the death penalty. Are the efforts in Florida and California to put a hold on lethal injections capital punishment a turning point in that aspect of human rights in American commonly ignored? Are these judges and others using the lethal injection label of 'inhumane' as a way to get rid of the death penalty once and for all? Shall the death penalty be stopped in those two states vis a vis the specific argument against the death by lethal injection? — we will see.

Executions by lethal injection were suspended in Florida and ordered revamped in California on Friday, as the chemical method once billed as a more humane way of killing the condemned came under mounting scrutiny over the pain it may cause.

If the chemically-initiated killing process is ruled definitely as crossing the boundaries into "cruel and unusual" — which the death penalty already is — then what next? Firing squads (still used some today), electric chair, hanging [by rope, etc.], and things like forced drowning have all been used to enforce the death penalty in the past, and if lethal injection is gone, than what other methods still exist? Will those be as 'humane'? The irony is that those being put to death by the state are going to die no matter what method is used, death is death. I guess society wants to feel better by saying we gave them the best death possible — an excuse (the process for the killing) for the act (the state killing). I just wish public debate will be sparked at least a bit in America over this news, even though chances are it will be far from intelligent, rational debate. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth would leave everyone blind and toothless. Vengeance breeds vengeance; vengeance is not as much as a deterrant as the act of revenge and personal/societal justice that outweighs it. Hopefully reason will prevail — eventually — in the US. Just my usual two cents.

Let's hopefully — in public discourse on capital punishment — focus less on the method of putting the person to death, and more on the act of the state killing someone as a punishment. After all, the judicial process is more for rehabilitation than punishment. And, if one argues the flawed (to say the least) argument that punishment is greater than rehabilitation into proper society, then I might expect that person to be against the death penalty. I would rather die than spend the rest of my life, tens and tens of years, in a concrete and steel holding cell.

The United States is the only developed nation to use the death penalty as a method of punishment. The United States is one of five countries that puts to death people under 18. Bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations have spoken against capital punishment and have strong treaties and laws against it — especially in the case of the EU (which makes sense because Europe's political climate is more to the center than America's relatively conservative-leaning politik).

Still sick; I hope to be better later this week. I have had time, however, to read up on some philosophy, and plan to have more philosophy-related posts soon. I have especially been reading up on my favourite philosopher, John Stuart Mill, who — from what we know — is pro-death penalty (according to a speech he gave). If Mill did believe in the death penalty, then he was wrong. If he changed his mind as he aged and developed views independent of his father's (James Mill) and godfather (Bentham) about the death penalty, then that's good. Of course, as I explain below, times change. One might say that the religion — it's really ideology but bare with me, spirituality plays into the next topic of this post — of Mill was utilitarianism. Not only did Mill's views develop, but so did utilitarianism — which he moved a bit more away from as he grew older.

The Bible, Torah, and Koran all speak for and against the penalty of death, and all say things like killing the nonbelievers or stoning women or homosexuals, etc. In the time these religious texts were written, the death penalty might have — like dictatorships and monarchies (for stability's sake back then) — make more sense then than now. A mix of ignorance or knowledge and just the situation of the times shape the relative relation between what those thousands of years old texts say. Through out those many years, the Bible, for example, has been so modified and was already questionable in the first place that its spiritual messages, let along its historical merit, are highly questionable.

I usually do not quote television scripts, but here is a bit from an episode of The West Wing relating to the death penalty
RABBI GLASSMAN: You know what it (the Torah) also says? It says a rebellious child can be brought to the city gates and stoned to death. It says homosexuality is an abomination and punishable by death. It says men can be polygamous and slavery is acceptable. For all I know, that thinking reflected the best wisdom of its time, but it’s just plain wrong by any modern standard. Society has a right to protect itself, but it doesn’t have a right to be vengeful. It has a right to punish, but it doesn’t have to kill.
That's why I love that show.

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