May 1, 2014

Justice in life and death

Hey, remember her?
The recent stories in the news regarding the death penalty have created some really interesting discussions among my group of acquaintances and friends.

In my years of working with the dying and chronically ill, I have been called upon to care for people who were exceptionally good and kind people and also people who had done exceptionally evil and horrific things. And a lot more of the rest of us who fall somewhere in the middle.

Life is not something you deserve or earn. Neither is death. Both are the terminal points at the end of a lifeline. Nothing more. You did nothing exceptional or noteworthy that resulted in your birth. And death is. For all of us. Saint and sinner. People don't die because they deserve to die. They die because death.

Capital punishment chosen as a solution to a problem. This problem is that the state has someone who is a clear danger to the public and must be removed for the safety of us all.
Capital punishment has not been shown to reduce crime or violence. It certainly does not save the state any money as it is currently implemented.
So if you need to remove someone from the population, why choose to kill them rather than imprison for life?

We as individuals, and collectively as the State, make choices based on who we are. If we choose to care for people with respect and dignity we do so because that is the people we choose to be, not because someone does or does not "deserve" respect and dignity.

The same goes for execution of prisoners. If we choose as a State to kill people who are convicted of certain crimes then we do so because that is who we choose to be - NOT because they "deserve" death.

To be clear here - I have absolutely no moral issues about killing someone who presents a clear danger if there is no other option. Which is about MY personal ethical system, not about the merits or lack of merits of the individual. However, my sense of justice does not demand that someone dies.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the show Babylon 5.
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?' So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.  
Which leads us to our current system. This system has been shown to have many faults, with inordinately high capital crime conviction rates for minorities and the poor.
Being personally accountable for every single person who dies in my name, who is imprisoned in my name, I have no choice but to decide that we have much better options than killing people. Especially in light of the problems our system has in identifying those who actually ARE a clear danger to the public and the lack of equity on how justice is currently dispensed.

Life imprisonment is reversible. Life imprisonment without ANY chance of parole removes a threat without the danger of killing who was wrongly convicted. Killing someone does not magically reverse the wrong they did, the life they took, the people they destroyed. It is simply a choice we make based on who WE choose to be.

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