For A Pro-Life Death Penalty
Jim Blair

The death penalty has always been debated heavily. Two things triggered this essay. Dead Man Walking, a passionately 'pro-life' film, was released, and - on a somewhat smaller scale, Steve Kangas summarised the "anti" position in 'Do Murderers Deserve Death?' Jim had this to say about Kangas' article...

Steve Kangas, like every other "anti" that I have read fails to deal with the strongest "pro" arguments. And there are now two new considerations, that in my opinion, tip the balance towards the "Pro-Life Death Penalty".


First, the old argument: closure for the families of the victims. As long a the killer of their children/spouse/"significant other" lives, most people can't get on with their lives.

I recall reading about the Richard Spect case (the guy who killed a bunch of nurses several decades ago). Every five or ten years, he came up for a parole hearing. The families of the victims, fearing that everyone else may have forgotten about the case and that he might be released to kill again, felt it their duty to attend the parole hearing and remind the board of his crime. They were subjected to a sort of mental torture each time. But they were able to keep him behind bars until he died, thus perhaps saving your life.

The opponents of capital punishment like to see themselves as "kinder and gentler", but that depends on whether you look at it from the perspective of the criminal or the family/friends of the victims. "Dead Man Walking" (book more so than movie) makes it clear that Sister Helen Prejean has much more love for the killer, than for the parents of his victims.

Now in most states, the there is little or nothing done for the relatives/friends of the victim, even if the state does have capital punishment. But in some states, Florida, for example, there IS some consideration. There the relatives are invited to watch the execution. When will some state let them "throw the switch"? Can compassion reach that far?

Better science

The main "anti" argument has been "what if the wrong guy is convicted?" And no one wants that. We all (should) know that "eye-witness" identification of strangers is not very reliable. Not good enough to be certain.

But now with finger prints, and much better, with DNA matching, evidence is much more reliable than it ever was in the past. The chances of convicting the innocent are lower now than ever because of modern science.

Does it deter?

The "anti" side likes to claim there is no deterrent effect, and they cite the broad lack of correlation: states with a death penalty are likely to have a higher murder rate, leading the "antis" to say that maybe it causes murders. But it is more likely the reverse. When a state has an increase in murder (or as likely, some particularly horrendous murders) they respond by passing a death penalty. Murder causes the death penalty.

But then clearly there is not a strong deterrent effect, or the murder rate would then drop enough to measure.

But to determine if there is any deterrent effect, many corrections need be applied; for age and demographics to decide how many murders should be expected. Studies like this can be manipulated to "prove" either side. National Review published one several years ago to 'prove" that each execution saves about 200 potential victims by deterring their would-be killer.

What purpose does it serve?

Often asked by the "antis". And now that can be debated. But each execution could, if done right, be the means to save at least 4 people. How?

About 3000-4000 people die each year in the US while waiting for organ transplants. No one seems to care much about them. I mean they die for lack of organs, while we burn and bury thousands of perfectly usable hearts, livers, and kidneys every year.

Part of the problem is timing: people killed in accidents often have their perfectly good organs spoil before a suitable transplant recipient can be lined up.

But with an execution planned months ahead, the tissue matched recipients can be ready and waiting. A single small caliber bullet to the head will leave the organs to save 4 people perfectly unharmed.

Cruel, you say? For those whose lives are saved? Or for the families of the victim? Just where is your sympathy?


I should be honest about my bias. I opposed capital punishment for most of my life. For all the usual reasons.

But then there was Ted Bundy. It was not just that he liked to kill young women (hey, no one is perfect!). And while everyone should be able to kill a few people, he overdid it.

But then when he bragged about how he got them: by hobbling around on crutches. He didn't kill just any young women, he targeted the ones who tried to help a cripple. It was then that I realized that I had this all wrong.

Call it "non-verbal communication". Words just could not express my response to that. But 20,000 volts, yes that could.

Essays on related topics...

Title Author
Can Punishment Be Justified? Thomas Ash
For A Pro-Life Death Penalty Jim Blair
Do Murderers Deserve Death? Steve Kangas [off site]

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