The death penalty is one of the most emotionally charged and controversial issues in the United States today. The death penalty has been continuously debated, not only as a legal issue but as a religious and ethical one, historically as well as in the present day. People have used a number of arguments to support their position regarding the death penalty. Among these arguments have been deterrence, cost, moral beliefs, and the possibility of mistake. I feel that the death penalty must be abolished because it is morally and ethically wrong and serves no true purpose. From its beginning, America included the death penalty in the legal punishments as part of its criminal justice system. Over the course of history, governments have been extremely inventive in devising ways to execute people. At one time or another people were flayed, their skins cut from their bodies, strip by strip, sawed into pieces, or beaten to death.
Others were shot with arrows, thrown from a high place onto rocks or stakes, boiled alive in water or oil, eaten by insects, bitten by poisonous snakes, buried alive, or walled up in cement. Others still were drowned, suffocated in a bog, quicksand, or a soft pit of ashes, whipped to death, left in a cell to die of starvation or thirst, or left outdoors to die of exposure to the elements. The gas chamber was the first new means of execution developed. The condemned prisoner is strapped into a chair in a small, airtight chamber. Below the death chamber is a container of sulfuric acid. At the appointed moment, a white cloth bag containing cyanide pellets is dropped into the acid. A chemical reaction takes place filling the room with gas. The cyanide interferes with the victim’s respiratory system and eventually, the brain loses consciousness. Soon the other vital organs give out. One expert compares the experience of being asphyxiated by cyanide gas to the pain felt during a massive heart attack. Constitutional?
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The electric chair, first used in the U.S. in 1890, is currently the second most commonly used method of execution here. The victim is strapped into a wooden chair, and copper electrodes are attached to his or her head and legs. At the appropriate time, a massive electrical charge is passed through them, burning the body’s internal organs and causing respiratory paralysis and cardiac arrest. Electrocution may or may not be relatively painless when death is virtually immediate, but several electrocutions in the 1980s require more than one charge to kill. At least one victim took ten minutes to die. Cruel? Lethal injection has become the most common method of execution in the U.S. It involves the transmission of deadly chemicals on one end and a needle on the other. The end with the needle extends through a hole in the wall to the gurney, where the needle Is inserted into the vein of the condemned person.
At the appropriate time, the tube is opened and the chemicals are allowed to flow into the victim’s bloodstream. In 1985, a Texas executioner spent forty minutes poking the victim twenty separate times before finding a vein that could be used to insert the needle. Arkansas authorities took a full hour trying to insert the needle. They even dug into the victim’s arm with a scalpel searching for a usable vein. But all for a good cause, right? One argument that people who are for the death penalty make is that the death penalty helps deter crime. Nothing exists today that proves that putting prisoners to death keeps others from murder. Abolitionists argue that most murders cannot be rationally deterred by any penalty, including death. They are crimes of passion, committed in moments of intense rage, frustration, hatred, or fear when killers are not thinking clearly of the consequences.
Texas, which has carried out more than 1 of every 4 executions in the entire country since 1976, has 1 murder for every 6,385 residents. Florida has 1 per 9,952. Georgia has 1 per 8,997 and Virginia 1 per 11,249. This compares to 1 per 20,383 and 1 per 43,750 in non-capital punishment states of Wisconsin and Minnesota.# If capital punishment is supposed to deter crime, then why do the statistics show different? Another factor in the opposition against the death penalty is the fact that it is so expensive. Charging a defendant with a capital crime escalates the costs of a trial. A capital case requires two trials, automatic state Supreme Court review, post-conviction proceedings, and Supreme Court appeals, all of which are extremely costly to the state both in terms of money and human resources. The actual cost of operating the super-maximum security condemned unit, the years spent by some inmates in condemned status, and the time spent administering the units, add up to a cost substantially greater than the cost to retain them in prison the rest of their lives.
Research shows that a death penalty case cost about three times as much from trial through execution, then housing the criminal for 100 years. The death penalty is morally wrong. Reverend Joe Engle made it very clear, “Whatever the method, execution is a form of torture. The whole process, not just what happens in the death chamber, is torturous. Imagine someone placing you in a large closet, telling you how you are going to be killed in a few years…taking you out to kill you…stopping…finally, one day, slaughtering you.”# If that is not torture, what is? Killing is forbidden by every major religion, and murder is considered a crime in every civilized society. The most sacred commandment set by God is, “Thou shall not kill.” In the case of the first act of murder recorded in the bible, God himself refused to condemn the killer to death. How is it then that the state feels it morally correct in doing so?
Abolitionists believe that society has no right to take the life even of a murderer. Killing is a violent unethical act, no matter how it is done, and no matter who carries it out. Just because the state does it legally does not make it right. No life is more precious than another, so no one, including the government, should have the right to take it from someone. Not only is it demoralizing but, no issue is more troubling to abolitionists than the possibility that the state might execute an innocent person. The possibility alone is frightening enough to convince some people that capital punishment should be abolished. People will admit that no matter how hard the legal system tries, factually innocent people will continue to be sentenced to death and executed.
The death penalty, unlike other punishments, does not give us a chance to correct mistakes. If society executes an innocent person, there is no way the wrong can be brought back. If the innocent person has been electrocuted, shot, gassed, or poisoned, there would not be a comforting way to say, “Sorry about that, you’re innocent, you can go now.” Dead people cannot stand up and leave. The negatives clearly outweigh the positives when it comes to the death penalty. It is morally and ethically wrong. It needs to be abolished once and for all. I feel publisher William Randolph Hearst summed it up best, “Cruelty and viciousness are not abolished by cruelty and viciousness, not even by legalized cruelty and viciousness.”
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