Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Why the Death Penalty is Immoral

by Melissa Smith

The death penalty. It’s a subject relatively untouched in this country, occasionally thrown around in heated classroom debates or examined by an article not dissimilar from this one. Of course there is a good reason for this, being that capital punishment has been fully abolished in the United Kingdom for over a decade, with the last execution for murder taking place in 1965. However, it is still very much in place in other countries and continues to occur every year, to the injustice of many a convicted criminal.

China alone executed 1000s of people in 2011, more than the total number of the rest of the world for that year. Iran executed at least 360, Saudi Arabia 82 and Iraq 68. 16 other countries carried out executions, including USA, and there are reported death sentences from 63 countries in total.

Processes of execution include lethal injections, electric chairs, cyanide gas, hanging and firing squad. Although some methods are regarded as humane by governments, they are easily mishandled, causing slow deaths in unnecessary agony. For example, doctors and medical professionals cannot administer lethal injections (due to the Hippocratic Oath they must take) so it is down to unqualified personnel to insert needles into the prisoners’ veins. This, as you can imagine, is not the easiest thing to do and there have been several reported cases of incidents where it hasn’t gone to plan, resulting in the torturous death of the prisoner at hand. This is not the only example of where a promised ‘painless’ death has not quite lived up to its name. Every method has the capacity for careless administration.

It’s a subject that has been disputed for years. No doubt if you’re reading this you will have an opinion. It may not be a strong one, but most of us have a basic idea of our own morality that we can apply in argument for or against. There are valid arguments in favour of the practice, for example when a loved one is murdered it’s very easy to want revenge, which the death penalty epitomises. Also, those who are brutally murdered with no warning have no time to say goodbye to loved ones, make wills or prepare themselves mentally for death, but those sentenced on death row have the privilege of potentially years sorting out all of this and coming to terms with it.

However, personally I am completely against capital punishment and find the concept entirely hypocritical and a degradation of the construct of legality. One of the arguments in favour of execution is “Life is sacred so if someone takes it away theirs should be taken too.” To me this sentence appears nothing but contradictory. If human life is valued so much, how is it that it can be so easily disregarded when the coin is flipped? Yes, what that person did was abhorrent and the severity is not to be undermined, but the taking of their life is not at all justified in reference to the original statement.

To me, the idea that a law so intrinsically installed in our society can be blatantly ignored by the government imposing it undermines the entire system of justice. How can you respect the laws that the government installs when they themselves so easily break them? If it is so wrong to take life, then why is it that it happens with ease at the hands of those who tell us so?

Another issue that is difficult to get around is that fact that the judicial system very rarely can prove 100% that a person is guilty. There can be very strong evidence, but unless several members of the court witnessed the scene clearly, there is no way to know for sure that the accused has committed the crime. Even a small chance that they might be innocent is too high a risk to run in the game of life or death. The death penalty is irreversible and binding. Once someone has been executed there is no bringing him or her back if a mistake has been made. Chances should not be taken with human life, however clear it may seem at the time.

It appears to many that death is the ultimate punishment; that dignity and freedom can be stripped of a person but death is the golden prize of retribution. However, I feel like death is an easy way off. Of course if you think on an ‘eye for an eye’ basis, it’s the best option, but if you really want to punish someone, wouldn’t it be worse for them to spend years in prison, forced to think about what they had done every day for the rest of their lives? Perhaps that’s a rather macabre view of it, but for those looking for punishment death seems like a let off in the long run. Also, in prison there is still chance for rehabilitation. It has been said that people can change, but killing criminals leaves no chance for them to revoke their actions.

Amnesty International is in opposition of the death penalty and continues each year to work to reduce the number of countries still imposing capital punishment. Since their International Conference on the Death Penalty in Stockholm 1977, they have brought up the total number of countries in abolition from only 16 to 80. It is an ongoing campaign and any help, however small, is essential in order to reach their main goal of total worldwide abolition.

In conclusion, the death penalty demeans human life. It is a medieval practice and one that should be left behind from modern society. It has been proven to not work as a deterrent and should be abolished if morality is ever to be justly upheld.

If you’re interested in joining PGS Amnesty International club, come along September 2012 every Friday in 3025.

Sources: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/, http://www.wikipedia.org/, http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/


  1. Completely agree. Although it's cliche, I think we need to remember that killing someone for killing someone makes us no worse than them.

  2. Thanks, yeah I think that's easily forgotten by those with the power to do so. It just seems like basic common sense to me which is why it's even more ridiculous.


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