Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Euthanasia And The Death Penalty

In the previous post I set out the reason's why I am in favour of permitting euthanasia in select circumstances. As well as being in favour of euthansia, I am against the death penalty. It has been pointed out that at first glance this may appear inconsistent and hypocritical. I, however, do not believe that this is inconsistent at all, and this is why...
The death penalty is the most extreme act of revenge that the state is authorised to use in the name of justice. It has been abolished in the majority of democratic countries in Europe and Latin America; it is retained by the U.S., most Asian democracies and nearly all totalitarian regimes. The crimes for which the death penalty may be invoked range from murder, via drug traffiking all the way down to theft. Amnesty International states that, officially, around 3,797 people are were executed in 2004 but, in reality, the number is likely to be far higher. In March 2004 a delegate at the National People's Congress said that "nearly 10,000" people are executed per year in China.
It's supporters argue that it acts as a deterrent and, indeed, one chap pointed out on NHS Blog Doctor's site that 'the UK's homicide rate has trebled since its abolition. Meaning that over 5,000 largely innocent people have been slain who might not have been, had we retained that ultimate deterrent.' Though it is true that murder rates are around three times greater now than during the during the period, it is a logical fallacy of the post hoc ergo propter hoc variety to say that this is due to the abolition of the death penalty. There are any number of reasons why the murder rate may have risen that would be completely unaffected by the possibility of a death sentence: there are more fire arms in circulation; society is less homogenous and riven by more tension; there is a widening gap between the rich and poor; there are better detection and conviction rates for murder. Correlation is not causation. Besides, murder rates are no lower in countries that retain the death penalty than they are in those which have abolished it and, indeed, in the USA, the much-vaunted drop in homocide in the previous ten years was proportionally greater in in those states which do not use the death penalty.
Anyway, the main point really is this. Many oppose the death penalty on the grounds of the sanctity of life. They state that it is always wrong to end life because life is a something scared. The basis of this belief is usually religious or deontological. The latter is best exemplified by Kant who said that every human being should be treated as an end in themselves, as opposed to a means to an end. Every person is a basic good and must be valued as such. It is, therefore, an absolute wrong - ie. it is wrong regardless of the circumstances - to kill any other human being. If this were the basis on which I opposed the death penalty then, yes, it would be incompatible with support of euthanasia; but this is not the reason. I am not religious so the 'gift of God' argument carries little weight with me. Moreover, I don't even believe that it is always wrong to kill somebody. If, for instance, I were on a plane that had been hijacked by a terrorist who was threatening to crash the plane and kill everyone on board, I wouldn't hesitated to try and kill him first with whatever I had to hand. Yet, even he, the terrorist, is an end in himself according to Kant and it is always wrong to kill him regardless of what he does. That's part of the reason that I think Kant is wrong and why I do not think anybody has an absolute right to life.
Instead, the reason that I oppose the death penalty is purely pragmatic. The justice system is not perfect and it never will be. Neither here nor anywhere else in the world can we be assured that there will never be a wrongful conviction. Even the fact the State might remove somebody's freedom by imprisonning them in error is terrifying enough, but at least in that case there is a chance that if new evidence emerges the ruling can be overturned and the person set free. Once you have killed somebody, however, there is nothing that can be done except a posthumous pardon and that is no recompense to the victim, only perhaps to their relatives and even then a pretty poor one. Many of the accused cannot even afford legal representation and end up being represented by court-appointed attorneys whose credentials are sometimes weak. The odds are stacked in favour of the prosecution from the outset. Since 1973, some 122 people in 25 US states have apparently been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. It is the falliability of the justice system that prevents me even considering the death penalty - not the sanctity or right to life - and that is why I think it is perfectly compatible with supporting euthanasia.
Right, that's the end of that... back to away-gays and slugs from now on for me!

4 Comments:

Blogger Name withheld to protect the guilty said...

You're right about the fallibility of the justice system, something which I neglected to mention on NHS Blog Doc's site.

9:34 pm  
Anonymous sildenafil citrate said...

am not religious so the 'gift of God' argument carries little weight with me. Moreover, I don't even believe that it is always wrong to kill somebody.

5:28 am  
Anonymous pharmacy said...

the only way to punish long career criminals is the death penalty! I'm agree with you!

9:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems then that you would support the use of the death penalty in cases of absolute certainty. For example, if an offender tortured, raped, and eventually murdered a child- and filmed the whole episode as a memento. The recording would remove all doubt over the innocence of the defendant. In cases such as this, it seems reasonable to presume that you have no objection to the death penalty. What do you think?

2:56 pm  

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