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Interest and Perspective

Our views depend on our priorities and the information we receive

Friday, June 23, 2006


The Moral Relevance of Execution Suffering

PrawfsBlawg questions (in a Socratic, leading manner) why we care if execution witnesses see what appears to be (but might not be) suffering. I haven't been served a softball in a while so i though i'd share my brilliant rejoinder:

The comfort of witnesses has moral relevance. If the penalty is not cruel and unusual because deterrence is a valid penological goal, then it is moral for government to make the condemned man suffer as much as possible before death. Suffering or torture may in fact be morally required (for the sake of effectiveness at preventing more murders) but in any case suffering, indeed even torture, should certainly be allowed.

However, executions should not be by torture (all agreed on this axiom?). See USConstit 8am. So deterrence is either not a valid goal or can only inform the process so far. Is a little pain good? How much? Is society's idea of how much is too much diminishing to the point where the answer is 'any'? At that point deterrence is no longer a legitimate goal under contemporary standards of human decency (in fact it's never a legit goal if you value people as such but we'll stick w/ the unjust precedent here).

Let's see about retribution as a goal. Again, the more suffering the better, right? If the DP is allowed b/c retribution is ok, then there may be a moral requirement to get the most bang for the buck, thus a requirement to torture or at least disregard suffering at death (see articles quoting families of victims re the lethal injection debate).

My point is that if people are bothered by a little twitching, we should stop tinkering with the machinery of death. Maybe we’re not brutes that enjoy killing, and maybe we should stop doing it. Unfortunately the Supreme Court has kept this issue out of the civil rights area (for example, they wouldn’t even hardly mention the issue of race in the rape cases) and leaves it up to the vagaries of public opinion (with the added vagaries and corruption caused by looking to the “objective” evidence of trends among elected officials). But we may (at least on either side of the not-very-smartland) be reaching a point where even under this structure executions are cruel and unusual.

Killing killers is killing us.

Reminder, kids: Republicans appoint Justices who are around 50 yrs old, Dems go for the senior citizen crowd. Let's hope those lefties hold on through their 80s--which they are now in.

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