A Humanist Perspective on the Death Penalty

John Shook of the Center for Inquiry offers a Humanist take on the death penalty:

Humanism cannot support the death penalty.

Humanism stands for valuing the lives of all, individual human rights, justice for everyone, and governments that defend all of their people. These grounds alone are sufficient for abolishing the death penalty. Humanism also stands for elevating human dignity and pursuing the nobler virtues of common humanity. Even if some perfected criminal system could execute only the truly guilty, such murderous machinery is still unworthy of us. Any institution that still encourages vengeance and retribution over equal social justice and protection of everyone is a decrepit perversion of civilization.

It’s a short, important read. Check it out.

As long as there can be any doubt in the process, the fact that an innocent person could be executed should be appalling to all of us. Even if the proof in a case was rock solid, what purpose does execution serve other than satisfy some sort of horrid blood lust deep within us?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Cuttlefish

    I do not, and will never, give consent for the state to kill in my name.

    • Richorman

      Ever?  Really?  Never ever ever?  Wow.  You have swallowed a whole bunch of dogma if you really believe that.

      So, a police officer (a state official) get shot at.  Acting as a state official, you think that he can’t kill the person shooting at him?

      Or, a police officer (a state official) sees a guy about to set off a bomb, and kills him in the name of the state?

      Or, how about war?  Are you against all wars under all circumstances?  What if your country is invaded?  You would never ever want your state to kill the enemy soldiers?  What about attacking enemy bases? 

      Or you can put yourself in the shoes of a political leader who has the opportunity to stop a genocide by bombing the leadership who is about to commit said genocide?  Not even then?

      Really?  Never, ever have the state kill anyone?

      • Sulris Campbell

        well said.  i see alot of oversimplification of a complicated issue and i am glad your here to point that out.

      • Anonymous

        These are all instances of defending themselves or society against greater harm.  Even then death should not be the objective of the defensive actions taken. If the police can wound rather than kill aren’t they obligated to do so?  Aren’t wars the last resort when diplomacy and sanctions fail?

        • Josh

          If someone is trying to kill me, I’m going to shoot to kill. I’m not going to pussyfoot around trying to save some asshole. But then again, I’m not a cop. I’m not interested in protecting people regardless of whether they’re criminals or saints as they claim to be.

          Prision or the death penalty don’t stop people from commiting crimes. Only education does that. I think thats one of the most overlooked topics related to this subject.

          • Sulris Campbell

            do you really mean shoot to kill or do you mean shoot to hit?  do you plan to spend extra time aiming to ensure a head shot? even if that makes it more likely you will lose the confrontation?  or do you plan to aim for center of mass?  there is a difference beetween trying to stop someone and trying to stop someone while also trying to inflict extra uneeded harm.

            i assume you mean that you will do what ever is most effiecient to stop them even if it puts their life at risk.  however you said you would do whatever it take to kill them (implying that you would try to kill even if it was more risky to you or the people around you or completely unnecassary)

        • Ducky

          Just a trifle of a point to make, hover. Shooting to wound is a Hollywood fantasy, I’m afraid. In high stress situations such as a firefight, for lots of complex reasons I won’t bore you with but a Google search can confirm, the mind usually falls back to a more primative state and the body’s fine motor control goes out the window. Shooting to wound is very unlikely, therefore soldiers and police are taught to aim for “center mass”, or the chest. This is the easiest and quickest shot to make, and assures that your target goes down. Even shooting someone in the arm or leg is potentially lethal, as your arms and legs have the largest blood vessals in your body, to say nothing of shock! In fact, the safest place to shoot someone is in the ass. As far as the death penalty goes, it’s a mixed bag for me. While I believe that the worst punishment in the world is to make someone spend the rest of his life making big rocks into little rocks…..some folk really do need a bullet to the head. Makes me sound like an animal to some, but there it is.

          • Sulris Campbell

            true but they use bullets that are more likely to wound even in the military the goal isnt to kill the other guy.

            you shoot for center of mass becuase missing is more dangerous (assuming their shooting back )than the alternative but we use bullets that do less internal damage than we could be using becuase we would perfer to wound.

            they do this in the military becuase killing an enemy disables one enemy.  but wounding an enemy potentialy disables him and whoever helps him off the battlefield from continuing to shoot at you.  two birds with one stone if you will

            so i think sayint that we aim to kill is wrong.  we aim it hit.  and we use bullets that are more likely to wound than kill.  the police could be using bullets that shatter inside the body almost ensuring a fatality and if they shot to kill they would be.

        • Kevin S.

          To the best of my knowledge, police are taught that when they do shoot, they shoot to kill.

          • Anonymous

            I stand corrected. 

          • Anonymous

            I stand corrected. 

          • Anonymous

            I stand corrected. 

          • Anonymous

            I stand corrected. 

            • AmyC

              The replies to hoverfrog about shoot-to-kill vs. shoot-to-injure made sense, but I still agree with Hoverfrog in that a death resulting form defensive action is regrettable, yet forgivable. The death penalty isn’t about defense though, it’s revenge disguised as retribution.

    • Nordog

      So no state funded euthanasia for you I take it.

      • AmyC

        Euthanisia = death penalty

        • Nordog

          Euthansia does not equal the death penalty, but then the comment to which I was replying spoke in terms more broad than just the death penalty.

          • Sulris Campbell

            yeah you got mis interpreted becuase you reply got pushed down so low… he was replying to cuddlefish

      • Anonymous

        Has anyone asked for state funded euthanasia?  Has anyone even implied it?

        With regard to voluntary euthanasia supporters all we ask is that relatives and doctors aren’t prosecuted for helping someone who chooses to die.  Nobody is asking for the state to fund an “Acme Suicide Booth” on every street corner.

        • Nordog

          Soooo, you’re against it?

          • Anonymous

            Against what precisely?  The death penalty?  Voluntary euthanasia? State funded euthanasia?  Street corner suicide booths?  Prosecution of relatives for assisted suicide?  Choice?  
            Trolls?

            • NorDog

              State funded euthanasia.

              • Anonymous

                Who has advocated state funded euthanasia?  Where has it even been suggested?  

                No, I’m not against it in principle though I think that the state certainly has higher priorities in the way it spends our money and so would be against it fiscally.  You seem to want to create a polarisation of opinion with people choosing sides.  I support people choosing to die if they wish.  It goes right along my belief that we should have autonomy over our own bodies.  

                What has this to do with state funded execution?

                • Nordog

                  I refer you to the comments below between AmyC, myself, and Sulris Campell.

                • Anonymous

                  Yeah I read those comment.  I refer to my previous comment and the questions therein.

                • NorDog

                  Okay, I refer to my previous postings.

    • Anonymous

      I agree.  With the proviso that defence can sometimes lead to the death of others for the greater good.  Once someone is incarcerated there is no need for such immediate defence against their actions.

    • comeondown

      At last someone with sense and without evil in their hearts.

    • comeondown

      At last someone with sense and without evil in their hearts.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    what purpose does execution serve other than satisfy some sort of horrid blood lust

    Well, for one thing, it saves a lot of money – prison is expensive. Secondly, it’s arguably less cruel to just kill someone than to keep them alive for what may be getting on for a century, with no hope of ever living a normal life again. Given a straight choice between the two options, I know what I’d choose for myself.

    Practically I’d rather take the decision out of the hands of the courts – everyone has a right to die if they choose to, prisoners included. A life sentence with the option to die instead seems to have the best of both.

    • Anonymous

      In the US executions are actually more expensive than a prison stay of several decades

      First off, most death row inmates wait 10-15 years for their execution. In the meantime they are entitled to appeals, which are often done as high as possible. All that court time costs lots of money

      • TychaBrahe

        It depends where you are.  In Texas and Mississippi, the death penalty is carried out with some expediency.  Of course in these venues, death penalty candidates are often not adequately represented.  

        In California it is far more expensive to keep someone on death row, precisely due to appeals, which in California go automatically to the State Supreme Court.  I think if you have people convicted of serious crimes *asking* to be sentenced to death, because you are more likely to die of a heart attack than be executed while on death row, there’s a serious problem.  

        • Dan

          It’s also around 20 years even in Texas between sentencing and execution, and is still more expensive than life in prison because of all the lawyers and appeal process. The state still end up executing innocent people even after a two decade appeal process, so I don’t know why you think executions should be more speedy.

          • Josh

            If we got rid of the appeal process things would go much faster, right?

            • Kevin S.

              Sure. We’d also kill a lot of innocent people, but really, who cares about them?

              • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

                Really? How many innocent people do you think there are in jail on long sentences? They don’t get the special treatment that death sentence prisoners do with the never-ending series of appeals, but it’s OK to not care about them, because they’re not getting killed?

                If the courts are so broken as to convict so many innocents, then that’s your problem, and dropping the death penalty isn’t going to help you fix it.

                • AmyC

                  Actually innocent people can have their convictions overturned. Have you ever heard of the Innocence Project? http://www.innocenceproject.org/

                  Dropping the death penalty would help fix it. If somebody is wrongly incarcerated for 10 years, they can get their freedom back and the state will owe them money for all the damage it caused (although that will probably never really make up for the lost time). If somebody is wrongfully executed, there’s nothing the state can do. The person is dead, and they can’t bring them back.

                  Seriously, why would you support the death penalty in a system that you know is flawed and there is a risk of executing an innocent person?

                • Sulris Campbell

                  the reply boxes are getting really skinny.  its cracking me up

  • TychaBrahe

    I disagree.  I look at the death penalty as social surgery.  We would prefer to treat antisocial behavior (by which I mean behavior that undermines society and civilization) through punishment and retraining, just as we would prefer to treat a medical issue with changes in behavior, diet, and possibly medication.  However, when a person’s actions are so egregious that they are incompatible with the continued proper functioning of society, just as a when a medical problem is incompatible with the continued proper function of the body, I have no compunction about removing that person from the social body.

    The world is not worse off because Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Timothy McVeigh are no longer with us.  In fact, Ted Bundy is an excellent argument in favor of the death penalty.  Bundy was incarcerated, but broke out of jail and went on to kill three more women and physically and sexually assault three more, causing permanent debilitating injuries.  Granted, Bundy had not yet been prosecuted when he was jailed in Utah, but other people have managed to escape from jail and kill, and one thing about the death penalty, it removes that possibility.

    • Kevin S.

      Escape is a young man’s game, and even somebody arrested for murder at twenty will probably be in the prison system until s/he’s forty before execution occurs.

      • TychaBrahe

        Well, McVeigh only spent four years on death row, Lawrence Brewer spent twelve, and Bundy sat on death row for less than a decade from his first sentence of execution.

        But we aren’t arguing about the technical aspects of the death penalty; we are arguing about the morality of it.

    • Sulris Campbell

      that was a beutiful analogy but it requires a flase assumption.

      in the case of a cancer we know its the bad guy and we would be better off without it

      in the criminal justice system things are not so black and white.

      you reference some black and white cases like Ted Bundy but alot of cases are not that stark.

      imagine a surgeon that sometimes removed cancer and sometimes removed healthy tissue becuase he had bad eyesight and was often drunk.

      you have to ask yourself is the greater risk to the patient posed by the cancer or the accidental removal of healthy organs. 

      what if you could put everything removed from the patient in a box in the fridge and if it turns out, on closer inspection, to be healthy tissue you could put it back where it came from?

      • Josh

        Not to be callous but I think we have enough working organs to sacrifice a few.

        • Kevin S.

          “Not to be callous, but I’m about to be incredibly callous.”

        • Anonymous

          So it is OK to sacrifice healthy organs and innocent people? Sounds pretty damn callous – and wasteful – to me.

        • Anonymous

          Are you volunteering?

        • Sulris Campbell

          so according to Josh as long as we have enough people that society wouldnt fall apart if we kill a few it’s not big deal to just haphazardly cut away at our own society….  take a look at the fiasco that is the italian justice system with the monstor of florence case and the knotts girl to see how that is working out for them.  (in those cases the police seemed to just arrest anyone and everyone for murder that was near at hand while concocting elaborate devil worhisping conspiracy theories that weren’t based at all in reality,  and then bullying bums and drug addicts to take the stands as witnesses) what a delightful system….

    • comeondown

      Friends, I just created a petition entitled American Congress: Stop
      the Death Penalty in America, because I care deeply about this very important
      issue. I’m trying to collect 100 signatures, and I could really use your
      help. To read more about what I’m trying to do and to sign my petition,
      click here:http://www.change.org/petitions/american-congress-stop-the-death-penalty-in-america?share_id=tuhmwCFLlP&pe=pce
      It’ll just take a minute! Once you’re done, please ask your
      friends to sign the petition as well. Grassroots movements succeed because
      people like you are willing to spread the word! elaine

    • comeondown

      What satisfacton an anyone get from the death of another persons death. Troy Davis was innocent  so no re=trial just put to death by a few people Even the Pope asked for his release. There should be life sentences given and that means for life. So a so called ;christain’country wants a death penalty. God did not answer my prayers or the millions that also prayed for Troy.so where was he-or she

      • Javier Fonseca

        Well, it seems that God answered the prayers of those who wanted Troy Davis to die… they just didn’t have a fancy website.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5IVDLJRGQTAVFK4KHLDKDH55Y Daniel

    Yes, the review policy needs to be reviewed.  But honestly, in clear cut cases, nix the appeals process.  

    Take Jared Loughner, the shooter from the Giffords shooting.  Six dead.  Premeditated.  No question that he did it.  I am absolutely okay with near immediate execution in those kinds of cases.  

    If we know they did it, and there are any special circumstances http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_circumstances_(criminal_law) I am all in favor of the death penalty.

    Once you make the decision to kill another human being and do so, I feel you have abrogated your own right to life.

    Do it quickly and do it cheaply.  We are talking about a person who after thinking about it, decided that murder was worth the risk or certainty of arrest and prison.  How can you ever be sure that they won’t consider it an appropriate solution later in life?  

    Otherwise, copy and paste TychaBrahe’s post to mine as well.

    • Nena

      “Once you make the decision to kill another human being and do so, I feel you have abrogated your own right to life.”

      I have to disagree with this as a blanket statement; there are certain circumstances (though extreme) where I feel the decision to kill another human being is acceptable. 

      For instance, if somehow I were to walk into a situation where someone was about to rape, mutilate, or murder my daughter. I would immediately make the decision to kill the attacker. Though I’d be happy to accept whatever punishment I had to take for that crime, I don’t think I would deserve to die for it.

      • Anonymous

        If you felt that you needed to kill the attacker in order to stop them then that would be acceptable. But if you subdued the attacker and then shot and killed them after they had already been taken down, then it wouldn’t.

      • Sulris Campbell

        i think when daniel made that statement he meant murder someone.  becuase your right if he meant kill someone it then it wouldnt make any sense.

        if you kill someone you deserved to be killed therefore somone kills you then they deserve to be kill and on and on ad infinitum.

        however the sentence if you murder you deserve to be killed makes more sense.  and i assume that is what he meant

        and we wouldnt consider your attack on the attacker that resulted in the death of the attacker (him not you), (assuming its not a hibernia86ish senario) would be muder.  it would be killing not murder.

    • Sulris Campbell

      you would need very strict rules about what was considered a “clear cut case” and i doubt many people would fall into this category.   But i would say you picked a very good example of one,  it is hard for me to imagine him being wrongfully accused or spending a deal of money to keep him alive.  but i dont think the limits of my imagination are a good basis for to create rules for a criminal justice system.

      consider this:

      japan has a problem sometimes of men who get handsy in crowded trains so they have created strict consequences for the perpetrators.  once on a train there are two men standing behind a woman, a man in a suit and a man in plain clothes.  the woman feels a hand under her skirt and turns to accuses the plain clothes man of the crime and he is hauled off to jail and interrogated for 6 months.  Japan has a 99% conviction rate.  there was a train full of witnesses not to mention the woman herself.  it would seem to be a “clear cut case”
      the problem is of course that he didnt do actually do it.

      in theory stopping bad guys is good however in practice it is really really hard.  any current system that tries to seperate the guilty from the innocent is going to have people who fall in the cracks on either side.  citeing once case that seems obvious (to us who were not even and I imagine have not reviewed the evidence) is not the same as proving where the needle should be placed in the delicate balance of the jsutice system.

      i strongly recomend reading the book “the Monster of Florence” about a seriel killer in Italy.  you are looking at only one side of the equation in order to come to your conclusion.  what about trumped up charges?  the infamous falibility of witnesses.  corrupt police officers, and the fact that juries are notoriously bad at using basic reasoning skills.

      of course you would say in those instances we wouldnt use the super extrodinary execution method.  but who would decide that?  the police, witnesesses, judges, and worst of all juries… do you see the problem?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rex-Shea/1126171168 Rex Shea

    In theory, I agree with the humanist opposition statement as far as supporting governments that protect all citizens, however I totally agree with the social surgery angle. Sometimes, crimes are so egregious that in order to properly protect the society and the citizens, some of these criminals must be eliminated from the system. The examples cited above are good ones.

    I have another angle that brings me to support the death penalty and that is deterrence. If even one innocent life is spared because a potential murderer hesitates because of the consequence, then the deterrence has been successful.

    By committing these horrible crimes against individuals and society, the properly convicted criminal has forfeited all of his rights, even the right to life, and we as a society are better off for his absence.

  • TychaBrahe

    Additionally, I want to know, if a humanist “values all life,” why are the lives of potential future victims of a murder not taken into consideration?  For example, Donald Dilbeck was sentenced to death for murder of a police officer.  He escaped from prison and murdered a woman during the theft of her car.  Had he been executed for the first murder, she might still be alive.  Why is her life less of a consideration than his?

    A list of murders who were released or escaped and went on to murder again.  http://www.wesleylowe.com/repoff.html

    • Sulris Campbell

      you are using your knowledge of the future outcomes of the case to bias your position of what people should have done at the time.  a death vs a death is a different situation than a life vs a potential death with varying degrees of probability.

      what is important is a system of justice that can distinguish between the guilty and the innocent.  pointing to a few cases where the criminal who was found guilty also happened to be guilty and proved it through continuation of their crimes after being arrested is anecdotal at best.  what percent of the prison population are repeat offenders of murder?  what percent were cleared when DNA technology was introduced?

      it has been found that our criminal justice system is so flawed they it requires a system of apeals courts to balance out the innocent people that have been mis-categorized.

      if the system were perfectly accurate it might be possible to kill a murderer directly after the guilty verdict.  but that is a fantasy world, we are dealing with reality.  and it turns out we make so many mistakes that we have built into our system a waiting period to see if we can clear up as many as possible before carrying out permanant harm.

      if it is more expensive to have a deathrow inmate than a lifer and studies have shown that the death penality has no singficant affect on crime rates (i.e. deterence) and criminals that escape jail and commit murder are statistically low enough to be a negligable risk to society…. then the only argument left is vegence.  it makes some victims fell better to hurt the people they think are responsible… i think hurting people to make other people feel better is probably not something we want to encourage in society.

      if the deterence worked and the cost was significantly cheaper then we might have a debate.  as it is i can see no benefit from capital punishment.

  • Michael

    The problem with the death penalty is that nobody believes it should be for everyone and nobody can agree who should get off.

    - Albert Pierrepoint, executioner

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    I think the death penalty should be a voluntary option for felons convicted of crimes meriting extremely long prison terms.

    I know if I were facing the choice of life in prison or a fast needle, I’d choose the needle.

    • Anonymous

      While I don’t encourage suicide, I do believe people have a right to it if they wish.

  • Twirlgrl

    I disagree with the statement that a humanist cannot support the death penalty.  There is always an assumption that vengeance or retribution is the goal.  There have been cases where I felt it would be appropriate because the perpetrator, by the heinous nature of their crimes has shown that they cannot be trusted to share a planet with the rest of us.  To me it is more a matter of public safety;  not any kind of tit-for-tat.  I think that in these cases, death is also more humane than a lifetime of solitude.

  • Paigeray23

    I am a Humanist and I support the death penalty, for many reasons that have already been stated.

    There are ways to make the death of an inmate cheaper. If a gun is $300 and a bullet is
    $1.00.

    Also, I live in California and the prison systems eat up a lot of our funds, sadly ahead of education. We can’t keep building prisons, that’s just ridiculous. Officer-involved shootings are up, so the brave men and women that are out there to keep this state and its citizens safe are subjected to even more dangerous work situations due to the influx of over 10,000 inmates that were released recently.

    Basically, it seems as though the death penalty needs to be ramped up. Maybe a Gladiator type dome battle royale with a whole arsenal of garish weapons to choose from lining the wall where the winner gets to go free, only to be shot as soon as he walks out.* Another option would be to make prison so bad that they never want to go back.

    Basically, we all have choices, they made their choices, they should deal with the consequences. I would take the consequence of death if I did something so horrible as to commit a horrific crime, but I know the consequence so I wouldn’t make the criminal choice.

    *Joke

    • Dan

      Except the appeal process for the death sentence is more expensive than paying to keep someone in prison for life. If California is having to release people because of prison expenses then they would actually SAVE money and be able to keep other people in prison longer if they did away with the death penalty.

      And your overriding concern with money while innocent people are sentenced to death is pretty sick. People on death row get exonerated all the time, just that should be enough for any compassionate person to oppose the death penalty, regardless of budget issues. Is life really so cheap to you?

      • Anonymous

        I am guilty of wanting a great life for my family. I don’t want to pay for these criminals to have longer stays in temperature controlled cells, hot water, ample physical fitness time, and three meals a day when there are good human beings in this very state that are suffering because they make too much for assistance  but not enough to have all the perks that prisoners do.

        When the prisons release third strikers due to expenses, they bring more crime to the streets, more crime that could escalate to even more heinous crimes. More crime for my family and other good human beings to deal with. Many of the inmates being released quickly fill up the prisons again. It’s a guaranteed better way of life for some of them. California has released twice in the last 10 years or so, and our prisons are still overcrowded. There are other ways, like making prison so unpleasant that the first strikers of more petty crimes never want to go back. Or make the prisons self-sufficient. Raising their own meat, farming their own vegetables, running on solar power, but I don’t think that will ever happen, probably due to the money it would take to get the prisons to that level.

        Let me ask you this: You oppose the death penalty, does that mean you oppose abortion too?
        Both topics seem to go hand in hand. Death of living cells. If not, please explain how they are different, I’d really like to understand how a person can belive in one and not the other.

        Also, do you live in California? When my sister was in high school a few years ago, she had to share a 10 year old history book that had been taped together with duct tape with 5 other students. In California, if you’re not obsessed with the budget, then you really aren’t looking at the future of the state and its citizens overall well-being. Oh, and I never said that I was okay with innocent people being put to death, you just assumed that.

        I really just can’t understand how a person would want to pay for a rapist, serial killer, child molester, etc. to live a better life than the people that really need help. As someone said below, the wicked are living on the backs of the just. And to me, it should be the other way around.

        Lastly, the life of a criminal is cheap to me when that very criminal believes that the life of their victim(s) is cheap. So, I guess in that area, you are right, I am not a compassionate person. Because the criminals that you say deserve my compassion gave that same compassion to their victim(s) too, right?

        • Sulris Campbell

          your argument should be for cheaper prison systems more than the death penalty which is expensive.

          next you want to know how to argue for a difference between abortion and death penalty

          for one pro lifers your draw the line on one has commited a crime the other has not same as normal humans

          for pro choicers you say that a fetus is not yet a person in the same that a growth of live cells (cancer) is not a person.  And a criminal is a person. 

          furthermore the pro choicer could argue that the fetus is a person but to hook a person up to a life support system that is another person is wrong without that person’s consent, even if it means the death of the person that requires life support.  which is different from ending the life of someone who is otherwise physicly healthy.

          easy peasy

          • Anonymous

            Okay, I understand how you’re making the difference, but the way that I have looked at it is this:

            A blob of cells that will eventually be a fetus and eventually a human baby gets aborted without having the chance to prove that it will be a good person in it’s life and get for a lack of a better term, killed. Yet a criminal on the death penalty has proven to society, most likely time and time again, that they can’t be good contributor to society, therefore, should be aborted from society.

            Death Penalty = Death of bad living cells
            Abortion = Death of living cells

            It’s not exactly logical for a person to be pro-choice and against the death penalty, when looking at it this way. While I will say that everyone can think what they want because of the Constitution.

            Basically, my arguement wasn’t to put more people on death row since that is expensive with the appeals process, but to make the death penalty run more efficiently. California for example hasn’t put anyone to death in over ten years.

            • Sulris Campbell

              every time you sit down or scratch your nose you kill living cells.

              you could try to draw the line of when something stops resembling a skin cell (something we kill all the time) and starts resembling a fully formed human. (at least in the brain area)  this would create a distinction between the early fetus and the person in jail.  that allows for the easy distinction between what we care about morrally and what we don’t without any logical contradictions.

              i am not saying i agree with either but saying they are logically exclusive is wrong.

              now your making a distinction based on potential.
              but talking about potential is messy and you might end up in wierd places if you follow basing moral decisions about life and death based on potential to their end conclusions.

              embyroinic cells have potential to develop into something awsome and something heinous.  you cant look only at their potential for good and not their potential for evil.

              furthermore people in jail also have potential for great deeds and heinous acts.  you can’t look at their potential for evil and ignore their potential for good.

              i suppose you could look at the odds that a baby will turn out ot be “good” but are you prepared to say that babies with poor odds should be aborted?  Children in “juvie” (kid jail) have a larger potential for bad than good… but I doubt you want to abort/kill them

              everything on earth has great potential….  perhaps a bug you squashed yesterday would have grabbed the attention of a child and kept them from running in front of a car.  can this potential keep people from smashing all bugs?

              even a virus killing many people has the potential to be used by scientists to create cures, should we not combat the virus becuase of this potential?

              furthermore if your only looking at potential then you have to look at the costs of reaching that potential future goal.  

              a baby has alot of cost associated with raising it into a functioning and intelligent 20 year-old and it might not make it.

              a 20 year-old that has that investment of time and money and survived the process obvioulsy has a greater potential than a baby.  if we say things with greater potential have a greater right to life you would be arguing that protecting the life a 20 year colledge grad (who has more potential)  is more important than an infant from a poor family… and other things you probably dont want to adhere to

              needless to say giving things value based on their unknown future potential is a nest of snakes.  whether that applies to criminals, babies, or skin cells and i dont sugggest arguing from this angle

              pro choice and pro life is an argument over what is and is not a person.  or what right a person has to the use of another person’s body wihout that person’s consent

              the death penalty debate is about what to do with people convicted of crimes. 

              these are very different issues and taking a stance on one does not dictate your stance on the other as there are no inherent hypocracy in any combination of the two.

        • Dan

          LadyFett, Did you even read what I wrote? The death penalty is MORE expensive than keeping someone is prison for life, so your whining about budgets is innane and actually makes my point, not yours. Again, let me spell this out, if you care about keeping the prison budget down you should oppose the death penalty. You also have no clue what you are talking about if you think the average American would be more happy in a prison than living a normal life.

          You are right that you are not a compassionate person, you would prefer for the state to spend extra money killing people (making the deficit WORSE, not better), despite the fact that hundreds of innocent people have been convicted of capital offenses. (And yes, I am personally pro-life.)

          • Anonymous

            Wow, did you even read what I wrote?

            I never said to just keep adding criminals to the death penalty to go through the lengthy process of appeals and cost the state more money, I am saying to make the death penalty actually work, like I said in another post, California hasn’t put anyone to death in over 10 years.

            Then it would be less expensive. I might not have clarified what I felt should happen.

            And never did I say that average Americans would be happier in prison than living a normal life. That makes no sense whatsoever. A criminal isn’t the average American that I am talking about.

            • Dan

              You wrote “I really just can’t understand how a person would want to pay for a
              rapist, serial killer, child molester, etc. to live a better life than
              the people that really need help.” So you CLEARLY said you believe that people in prison live better lives than struggling Americans. You also said that people want to be in prison because their lives are so good there, compared to life on the outside.

              Making the death penalty cheaper would mean less appeals and killing people off much faster. Hundreds of innocent people have been saved due to the appeal process and even with 20 year appeal processes innocent people still are executed (that we know of, I’m sure there are many more we won’t be sure about). Your concern with saving money at the expense of enacting policies that will assuredly kill even more innocent people is not a humanist attitude. It is callused and illogical, and sounds like the bloodthirsty, uncaring debates I have with Christian fundamentalists. Your family will not be better off if more people are executed in California, like you claim. In fact the evidence shows that an increase in the death penalty correlates with more violence not less, so if you really care about wrongly convicted people, violence in society, or the safety of your family you have absolutely no reason to support the death penalty.

    • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

      I want to comment on your idea of “making prison so bad that they never want to go back”; this idea is ultimately a false one, as history shows.

      Read a little bit about Victorian England.

      During that period, the prison and jail system were exceedingly horrible. You had prisons like Newgate and the Panopticon, among others, explicitly designed to instill fear and dread, not to mention including punishments that even at the time were considered exceedingly harsh (48 hours in a room so small you couldn’t lay down, and even if you tried, there were projections and such to make it impossible – that was one of the “lighter” sentences).

      Not to mention the then-contemporary horror (at least among the underclass and criminals of the period) known as the “Hulks” – or even worse –  “Transportation” (in fact, transporation was considered so bad that prisoners would do whatever they could to be transferred to the Hulks, which were a horror story unto themselves).

      Despite the fact of these extreme punishments (which were given in many cases to petty criminals – not just to violent ones), and despite the fear they did instill in the underclass and the criminals among them – these punishments did nothing to stop people from committing crimes; it is also highly unlikely that they even had a deterrent effect.

      • Anonymous

        I guess I should explain that one and I should have changed the way I phrased it.

        When I say make it so bad that they don’t want to go back I’m not saying to follow guidelines from over a hundred years ago. Of course society has grown leaps and bounds since then and I’m not saying that we should employ Victorian England punishments. I’m not saying to use torture or horrific punishment methods either.

        There are many ways to make it less expensive that could be employed right now that we aren’t even considering that could change a criminals perspective on going back.

        Why do they deserve to be in a temperature controlled environment when there are many hard working people that have to work for 8 hours or more a day in harsh environments.

        Why do they deserve hot water for every shower, every day? There are many good human beings that can’t afford the high cost of gas here in California.

        And lastly, they should be farming and feeding themselves instead of being fed a nutritious and complete meal by the state 3 times a day. There are many families that struggle to provide food for their whole family and at times go without.

        I’m not saying that my ideas are the ones that should change the whole prison system, I am just saying that there are ways to change the system and make it less of a burden on the taxpayers and they are not being explored. Maybe they are being explored, but I’m not seeing any changes actually happening.

        Logically, there will always be crime, no matter the deterrent, rehabilitation, punishment…humans can’t be peaceful, not every single one of them at least and at some point, the good need to be put before the bad. The goal should be to find more effective ways for the prisons to exist and provide punishment for the criminals, because they will always be there.

        Oh and thank you for the history, I’ll be researching more into that now. :)

        • Sulris Campbell

          now that i totally agree with.  they dont need T.V. or iternet time.  i like the programs that teach them a trade or allow them to get a college degree (since that makes it extremely less likly they will return to crime when they get let out)  but the average citizen should have acces to the same training.  i am sure they could make people food with all the nutrient needed (like dog food)  i dont consider that cruel or unusual (or i wouldnt do it to my dog).  campers go out into un air conditioned places for fun i wouldnt call that cruel or unusual to no have air conditioning (unless they had a health condition or the heat was above reasonable safety levels)

      • Sulris Campbell

        very true most studies show hard punishment isnt considered becuase the criminal isnt planning on getting caught

  • ff42

    I support the death penalty (but not by government because it is so flawed) and ONLY after all other methods of restitution to the victim (or heirs) are exhausted and ONLY if the victim (or heirs) demands such.

    If Jack rapes Jill and Jill accepts $X as restitution then, in my book, justice is complete.  If no restitution is forth coming then Jill, in my book, is morally justified in directly (or via an agent) in applying the death penalty to Jack.  On the other hand if she completely forgives Jack  then nobody else (including government agents) ought to have a claim on his life.  And yes, $X, ought to be completely determined by Jill.

    • Nogodscanuck

      Rich Jack rapes poor Jill. Jack’s dad own the mill in town where all of Jill family works. Will Jill get justice?

    • Anonymous

      I am willing to support the death penalty in some cases of first degree murder. And I think that rape is a serious crime that should be greatly punished. But killing someone over it is going way too far. We can debate “an eye for an eye”. But “a life for an eye” isn’t just.

    • Anonymous

      I think that it is utterly unfair to put that kind of decision on the victim.  If we want the rule of law to operate then it should be one rule for all, not rules dictated by victims.

  • Rickmunn

    A British Columbia, Canada man broke up with his girlfriend. She moved to the U.S., He looked on the internet about the death penalty in that state, there was none. He drove to her city put a gps on her car, followed her then killed her in a parking lot. This happened in the last year. I do not remember the names of the persons or city. I am from B.C., Canada.

    • Dan

      What is your source for this anecdote? I’m guessing we are missing some important details here, are we really to believe that this guy had no problem with life in prison as long as he wasn’t executed?

      And even if the death penalty was a deterrent in that one case it would still be immoral because a nontrivial number of people sentenced to death are innocent (as we found out in dozens of DNA cases). And like I said earlier, not only is there no good evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent at a societal level, the correlation actually goes the other way, as in states and nations with the death penalty usually have more violence (I’m not claiming causation, but just pointing out that the correlation actually goes against the deterrent argument).

      • Nogodscanuck

        I linked one source to this article two comments down.

        • Sulris Campbell

          he is right though it is purely anecdotal.  evidence points that deterence fromt he death penalty is not working.  in fact there is some evidence that there is more crime in places with the death penalty. 

          it could mean that the death penalty weakens people’s aversion to violence in society creating a society that had more violent criminals that the death penalty actually makes you more likely to be the victim of a violent crime.

          this is just a theory that fits the correlation of data about areas with and without the death penalty and i know that doesnt mean causation but if it were true we would have no reason to continue the death penalty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    I think that right now, this issue is the most divisive side-issue that our movement is wasting time over. We don’t need to be focusing our anger inwards. The opposition is out there. Side-issues throw us off. 

    • Nordog

      What about the death penalty for rapists in elevators?

  • Nogodscanuck
  • Jonas Green

    I disagree with the general statement’s concept – that if you dare call yourself a Humanist you must oppose the death penalty.

    Now as the justice system is not perfect, yes you could say in most cases the Death penalty is not appropriate. — lingering doubt as to guilt, fairness in how it is applied – etc. but in the ideal — that’s a different story -

    It prevents the dangerous and guilty from breaking out and killing / raping etc again.
    It’s less costly than feeding and housing the individual for the rest of his life – maybe.
       — (remember no point in appealing, 100% guilty ideal case)

    It sends a message — If you don’t value the life of your victims, you’d better not value your own life, because it is forfeit.

    • Dan

      Oh come on, do you really think people are just about to commit heinous crimes but stop because they would risk life in prison but not execution after a 25 year appeal process?

      Since there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent (if anything the correlation is the other way) and it is a fact that innocent people are sentenced to death it is illogical to somehow pretend the death penalty is good for society (and that is ignoring the pragmatic fact that it is fiscally irresponsible since the appeal process is more expensive than life in prison).

      • Nordog

        Actually, yes.  The possibility of execution can deter someone from killing another, especially if that person is already accustomed to being locked up.

        Besides, the death penalty does deter the one executed from killing again.

        • Dan

          Wow. The choice isn’t between letting someone go free to kill again and giving them the death penalty, you do understand that life in prison is the default choice instead of the death penalty, right? (And please don’t go on with this excuse other people are using that we should execute someone to keep them from killing other prisoners. Hopefully I don’t  have to point out how illogical it is to try to say we should protect violent convicted criminals from being killed by killing violent convicted criminals).

          What is your evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent? Like I said earlier the correlation is between the death penalty and higher levels of violent crimes, not less (I realize that correlation isn’t causation, but I’m pointing out that even the correlation isn’t  on your side). The preponderance of the evidence points to the fact that the death penalty does not make society safer, and might even make society less safe.

          The real issue is the fact that you seem to have no problem with the death penalty despite the fact that it is racist (minorities get it more than whites for the same crime) and that it is irreversible and that hundreds of innocent people have been convicted of potentially capital crimes they didn’t commit. Even if there was a small deterrence effect (which the evidence argues against), do you really think that would be worth hundreds of innocent people being killed by a state?

          How big of a deterrent effect would justify the rare but unavoidable killing of falsely convicted individuals to you? And what is your evidence that level of deterrence is granted by the death penalty?

          • NorDog

            Apparently your emotion has shut the door on rationality.  It is causing you to infer far too much into what I’ve written.

            In any event, to the point regarding the risk of executing innocent people by mistake or by malice, that is a real concern, as I’ve alluded to previously.  However, it is a practical concern and not one that goes to the question of whether or not the death penalty can ever be licit in principle.

            Put another way, to argue that innocent people should not be executed is to say nothing as to whether guilty people should be executed.

            • Anonymous

               But you still didn’t provide any evidence for your assertion that the death penalty is a deterrent. Put up or shut up.

              • NorDog

                Put up or shut up?

                No.  I’ll do neither.

                Personally, I really don’t care if it’s a deterrent or not.  If you say it isn’t, fine.  I’ll not try to disuade you of your position.

                Though I find it odd that one would hold that the death penalty has absolutely no deterrent effect, even if in the aggregate it does not.

                But like I said, in the big picture, I don’t care.  It doesn’t matter.

                • Anonymous

                  Oh, sorry. I could have sworn you said “The possibility of execution can deter someone from killing another,
                  especially if that person is already accustomed to being locked up.” But, if you don’t care and it doesn’t matter to you, obviously you would not have made that assertion.

                  Must have been some other Nordog.

                • Nordog

                  Your fatuous attempts at withering sarcastic scorn are curiously entertaining.

                  It may suprise you to learn that not everyone is as emotionally connected to their opinions as you appear to be to yours.  In fact, many conversations throughout time have included an untold number of comments of which the commenters were just not all that emotionally invested.

                  As an example of logic reacing a valid conclusion, your post is a fail.  As an example of snarky rhetoric, it’s simply lame.

                • Sulris Campbell

                  this one is ad hominem too

                • Nordog

                  I’ll see your ad hominem and raise you one red herring.

                • Anonymous

                  From “curiously entertaining” to “simply lame” in three paragraphs. It’s just like how you went from claiming that execution is a deterrent in one post and then when you were asked for evidence to support this assertion, you said it doesn’t matter and you don’t care. Consistency is not your strong point.

                  BTW, you were wrong – again – when you accuse me of being emotional on this issue. I actually support the death penalty in some cases. You know absolutely nothing about me, so don’t tell me what I think. You’re not fit for the job.

                • Nordog

                  Okay.

            • Sulris Campbell

              you opened with an ad hominem

              and i feel that practical concerns are the only concerns when it comes to whether we should should not do something on principle. 

               for intance that logic would entail that shooting people in the face as a practical isue tends to kill them but that it is not a good argument against shooting people in the face in principle

              practical considerations are obviously relevant things to base your principles on.  it is nonsensical to claim we should have impractical principles of morality.

              • Nordog

                Perhaps, but practical considerations are both arguable and malleable.  Besides, it is hardly inappropriate to understand what is and is not principle in a given issue.  This is particularly so when the issue is one accompanied by so much emotion.

              • Nordog

                Oh, I would say that you have it backwards.  That is, practical considerations should follow principles, not the other way around.

              • Nordog

                Oh, I would say that you have it backwards.  That is, practical considerations should follow principles, not the other way around.

    • Sulris Campbell

      i was with you until your last line about using killing people to send messages.  thats never a good reason.

      also just because something should be permissable in an imagined ideal society does not imply that it should be permissable in our real society

  • http://antigold.myopenid.com/ Jude

    I’m not opposed to the death penalty because it is unfairly imposed; I’m opposed to it because it’s illogical.  How can it be logical to *kill* someone, for example, as a punishment because they *killed* someone?  An eye for an eye is Biblical; it isn’t rational.   If you research the issue with the intention of debating it, you’ll find that there are no rational arguments in favor of the death penalty.  Ted Bundy escaped from a town 30 miles away from where I live.  According to the book “The Stranger Beside Me”, he headed for Florida because they had the death penalty.  He killed people there because he wanted to be caught and killed.  Anyone who spends time in prison (or even visits a prison) can tell you that life in prison is the greater penalty.  Once you’re dead, you’re no longer paying for anything.

    • Michael Appleman

      I don’t see it as a punishment, but removing a problem person from society.

      • Kevin S.

        Which life imprisonment without the possibility of parole does quite well, actually.

        • Nordog

          Well, except that inmates kill other inmates.  Certainly, if a convicted murderer doesn’t deserve to be killed then the car thief he lives to kill in the day doesn’t deserve it either.

          The fact is, some people need killin’.  The trouble is making the right choice.

          • Kevin S.

            Except the car thief generally isn’t in the same prison population as the convicted murderer.

            “The trouble is making the right choice.”

            That’s a pretty big problem.

            • Nordog

              Talk about dodging the issue.

              But, really, not in the same population?  Really?

              Yeah, making the right choice is a pretty big problem, but it is not an insurmountable one.  In any event, it’s a problem of practicality, not one of principle.  Recognizing the difficulty in choosing acknowledges that at least some choices are correct.

    • Sulris Campbell

      your equivocating killing and muder but they are not the same thing.  probably nobody is saying the penalty for killing is killing.  that is untenable.  they are argueing that the penalty for murder should be killing which is different.  i am afraid you made a straw man out of their argument and thats not cool.  i am anti death penalty becuase it doesnt seem to have any of the practical results that we might hope for (deterance, lower costs, etc) but that doesnt justify making straw-man arguments

  • Nude0007

    I think the death penalty should be used immediately on 2nd offenders for rape, robbery and other major offenses.  When there is no question that they committed a murder, no appeals and quick execution.  Like someone else here said, use a gun and a bullet.  It is ridiculous they spend so much on executions with expensive drugs or lots of electricity.
    It is very expensive to keep someone in prison.  One figure (for California, I think) was $65k a year.  Incarceration does nothing to deter or rehabilitate criminals.  First timers, sometimes.  We just can’t afford to keep all these people in jail.  We need a true rehab program or some other new option, but jail never has worked in almost any way.  The death penalty needs to be quick and mandatory for repeat offenders.
    Humanism has nothing to do with it, for or against.  It is plain economics and social responsibility.  It is sad, but we can’t keep bankrupting ourselves keeping prisoners and ending up with no positive results in 90% of the cases.  When people decide they are justified in preying on others, you can’t rehabilitate them or fix them somehow.  So what else can we do?
    Like someone else said, think of the potential victims, and that you make taxpayers victims by imprisoning them.  We need a new approach, like if there was a foolproof way to wipe someones memory.

    • Anonymous

      No, this plan is too extreme. If you commit a second offense of rape or robbery or something of that nature, I can maybe support a longer sentence, though even that is questionable because then increases the punishment for one crime just based on what order is was commited in. But killing someone when they didn’t kill anyone themselves makes us the bad guys. And I’d rather not be on the bad side of morality…

  • Beth

    I don’t know how I feel about this.  What are we to do with those devoid of conscience who either desire to hurt others or else simply don’t care? Is the solution permanent incarceration? But what about those whose antisocial behavior is too much to deal with there? There is some question as to whether solitary confinement is “cruel and unusual punishment”. I don’t know which is better, killing someone or keeping them locked up all alone for the rest of their lives.  I don’t know what is most ethical to do with these destructive ones who cannot be rehabilitated, that’s why I don’t know about the death penalty.

    • Sulris Campbell

      i think the best person to make the decision between solitary and death is not your or me but the criminal.  different people might choose differently in that regard having a blanket statement on which penalty is nicer doesnt make sense.  and telling other people which one they perfer doesnt make sense either.

  • Beth

    I don’t know how I feel about this.  What are we to do with those devoid of conscience who either desire to hurt others or else simply don’t care? Is the solution permanent incarceration? But what about those whose antisocial behavior is too much to deal with there? There is some question as to whether solitary confinement is “cruel and unusual punishment”. I don’t know which is better, killing someone or keeping them locked up all alone for the rest of their lives.  I don’t know what is most ethical to do with these destructive ones who cannot be rehabilitated, that’s why I don’t know about the death penalty.

  • Anonymous

    If the person was proven guilty beyond a doubt then I could support the death penalty for first degree murder or for treason that causes people to be killed. It is only fair since they did the same to others. If we consider the death penalty to be “blood lust” even though it is the exact same thing that the criminal did, then how can we defend any other type of punishment since those too are attempts to match the punishment with the crime.

    All that being said, however, I do have questions about how high the level of proof needs to be before we do an execution. How sure do we have to be? I’ve heard many stories about (black) men who were arrested in the 1980s for rape only to be told recently “oops, we tested the DNA and you aren’t guilty. Sorry about that!” Losing thirty years of their lives is bad enough. At least they can be paid money for the time they spent behind bars. But if they had been arrested for murder and then executed, only for their families to learn years later that they were innocent, that should cause anyone, even Rick Perry, to pause. We need to decide how high the bar needs to be before we give the ultimate punishment.

    • Sulris Campbell

      fair and justice is not the same thing.

      eye for an eye might be fair but it is not justice.  justice takes into account rehabilitation, extenuating circumstances.

      fair has to do with followin the rules of a game or situation and applying them equally.  justice concerns itself with what those rules should be.

  • Anonymous

    Wow surprising how many atheists are OK with the death penalty. Add me to the list!

  • Anonymous

    A criminal justice system has three goals.
    1. Protect society from the criminal behaviour.
    2. Act as a deterrent against other criminal behaviour.
    3. Rehabilitate the criminal.

    The death penalty arguably protects society but at a greater cost than incarceration and no more effectively.  It is less of a deterrent because a criminal in prison is a constant reminder that criminal behaviour is actively being discouraged.  A dead criminal is a lesson given once.  A dead criminal cannot be rehabilitated.  You may argue that someone it is not possible to rehabilitate someone on death row because they are too wicked but that is a failure of the prison system rather than an argument for execution.

    • Joshua

      You forgot the most important goal: JUSTICE.  I assume that’s why they call it criminal justice in the first place.  If you purposely snuff out a human life in a criminal manner, the state is “just”  to snuff out yours once it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you did it.  While there are a lot of good arguments against the death penalty, it always amazes me how little thought some people give to the murdered victims

      • Kevin

        An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.   I thought we learned this lesson long ago that this is not justice.

      • Anonymous

        How does executing a criminal help the murdered victims?  They are dead already and can feel neither satisfaction nor anger.  Why is the state “just” in taking a life?  What justification do you offer for this?  I see only an assertion with nothing to back it up.

      • Anonymous

        How does executing a criminal help the murdered victims?  They are dead already and can feel neither satisfaction nor anger.  Why is the state “just” in taking a life?  What justification do you offer for this?  I see only an assertion with nothing to back it up.

      • Anonymous

        How does executing a criminal help the murdered victims?  They are dead already and can feel neither satisfaction nor anger.  Why is the state “just” in taking a life?  What justification do you offer for this?  I see only an assertion with nothing to back it up.

  • Daniel

    I know this is kinda out there (ok its really out there), but if we were to develop brain scans that could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person committed the crime (on the magnitude of DNA evidence if not greater), then I believe the death penalty is completely moral; not out of bloodlust or some vain attempt to avenge for the violated: but because using taxpayer dollars to pamper and feed such an individual for the rest of their lives would be completely insulting to morality. The wicked would get to live on the backs of the just.

    If you look at the death penalty as retribution, you are thinking about it wrong. There is no adequate retribution that can be obtained for the murder of a loved one.

    The death penalty is not a deterrent: we all have to face death, and simply forcing someone into that state is not going make a hardened criminal think twice.

    This also leads into the abortion debate because unwanted children cause more crime. Most mothers do not want to give their child up for adoption, yet they half-ass discipline and care, and society now has to be injured. I think mothers and fathers should be held legally responsible for the upbringing of their children. The idea that your children can do whatever the fuck they want and you’re not responsible is wrong to me. If you bring children into this world you better damn well bring them up to respect other peoples’ life and personal property. Going back to the brain scan thing, perhaps if it can be proven that the parents were directly responsible for their children’s actions, they should be sterilized or subject to capital punishment themselves.

    • Sulris Campbell

      in this hypothetical world there could be an argument for the death penalty based on cost and liklihood of rehabilitation.  i think some responsibility to the parents is not unwarrented but you go a bit far with sterilization or execution…  there are alot of factors at play as a child develops into an adult and more development of ideas happens after they leave the nest.  i think that they are probably punished enough just by the knowledge of their failure and the fact that their child is locked in prison or killed.  anything more might be a bit harsh.

  • Anonymous

    Even if some perfected criminal system could execute only the truly guilty, such murderous machinery is still unworthy of us

    I disagree. There are certain individuals who amount to cancerous cells in society, who will never be rehabilitated because they simply lack any moral compass and are sadists by nature; Jeffrey Dahmer would be the classic example. Executing such individuals is like surgery to remove a tumor, it makes the rest of the organism (in this case society) healthier. In addition, I think that there is value for the collective psyche of a population in knowing that there is a certain “balance”, that the most horrific crimes will be met with the ultimate punishment. Let’s be honest, prison is not for rehabilitation, it’s for punishment. You don’t lock someone in a tiny barren cell with an exposed toilet, only letting him out a few hours a day for meals and excersize in a yard full of gangs (assuming he’s not in solitary) because you expect him to “rehabilitate”, you do it to exact a punishment. Though lesser than execution, the impulse behind it is much the same.

    Having said all of that I have come to oppose the death penalty due simply to the impossibility (at least for now) of creating a system that won’t end up killing innocent men and women. Mistakes happen, and over-zealous prosecuters in collaboration with corrupt governments (hi Rick Perry!) also happen, and they lead to what amounts to government sponsored murder. This is not acceptable to me. Life in prison (with the option of a quiet and peaceful death should the inmate ever choose it for him or herself) is punishment enough and allows for the possibility of taking it back, should clear evidence present itself that there was a wrongful conviction.

  • Summer Seale

    I admit that in most cases, I am against the death penalty.

    Except when it comes to mass murderers (think Eichmann). In such cases, exceptions must be made. Israel has no death penalty and they put him to death anyway (an exception was made), because of the horrific nature of his crimes.

    I think that people such as that deserve no less.

  • Greg

    In principle I have no qualms about capital punishment – but then that is probably because I don’t subscribe to the belief that the life of a human being is magically sacred in some way. If you take away the ‘sanctity of human life’ from the equation, then pretty much all the arguments against executions on principle seem to me to collapse. 

    (And if any theists out there wants to jump from that statement to claiming I am happy to kill people at a whim (and it’s the only ‘logical’ outcome of atheism), then don’t bother: I’m not going to even reply to such a ludicrous strawman. There are many, many reasons not to kill people other than their life being inexplicably and ultimately valuable.)However, because of practicalities, I am not comfortable supporting the death penalty – as people have mentioned, the justice system is not 100% accurate. The death of innocents is an unacceptable side effect.

    • Greg

      Ugh – does anyone know why Discus messes up formatting so often? Maybe I should get an account to post so I can edit, but I dislike doing that unless I have to.

      Needless to say, the ‘practicality’ part should have been its own paragraph.

  • Deathby2

    Why are my rights being taken away just to allow these criminals to live?  In order to allow these criminals to live, I have to financially support their incarseration.  I would rather see inicents die then pay another dime.  In a world of rabid overpopulation, something needs to be done to cull the herd.

    • Kevin S.

      You pay more to kill them than to keep them alive.

    • Neil

      I’m with you…and I think we should start with internet trolls, and bloodthirsty idiots who can’t spell.  Either way, I won’t have to have this conversation again!

    • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

      You’d rather see someone innocent of a capital crime die than to spend money making sure of their guilt? Are you positive of that? How do you know that the innocent person didn’t make the same argument that your innocent ass is making right now – just before they were picked up for a crime they didn’t commit? You somehow think “oh it can’t happen to me”? One of these days, you might be surprised what can happen to an innocent individual…

  • Anonymous

    The “pro-death camp”? Seriously? Is it at all possible for us to have any sort of moral conversation without using derogatory labels for those who disagree with you?  This is an important conversation, and one that we need to have, but it’s not going to work if we just paint the other side as evil and ignore their arguments in favor of the over-simplified versions that Shook argues here.  As an atheist, it’s kind of disturbing to see strategies like that used by a humanist when discussing moral issues, since those same strategies are a big part of what’s so frustrating about arguing with religious people.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

    The entire Justice System in America is broken. 

    This issue isn’t so black and white. It poses the question, is it ever okay to take another humans life?

    Personally, I believe there are certain situations which killing another person is warranted. Self defense or defense of another are two situations which I could possibly kill another human. I also support a persons right to choose, whether it be to end their own life or that of an embryo growing inside them.

    Our justice system is too dysfunctional for me to stand behind the death penalty 100%.

    I consider myself a humanist, but I don’t know if I fully agree that a humanist couldn’t support the death penalty in certain circumstances. I know that a humanist wouldn’t have been cheering when Rick Perry mentioned all the executions done in Texas under his watch. But that doesn’t mean that a humanist can’t be glad that certain serial killers are no longer on this planet with us. Anything that makes my children and my fellow humans safer makes me happy.

    Humanism doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, just like Christianity or Atheism. Everyone interprets things differently and I don’t think such a firm statement could be made. Yes, I believe every single human being on this planet has value.  And I don’t believe that the only reason for the death penalty would be blood lust.

    Georgia executed Troy Davis this month, who I don’t believe was guilty of the crime he was convicted of. One innocent person dying is one too many. Chalking it up to collateral damage when so many people were fighting for him is bologna. And that is what makes the death penalty so scary.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    I think it’s safe to say that regardless of the merits or otherwise of the death penalty, the proposition that humanists must be against it has been proven, by counter-example, to be bollocks.

    QED.

    • Sulris Campbell

      thats true i find the tenets of humanisn compatible with bosth sides of the debate.  it seem like he was trying to hijack humanism for his own soap box

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Xanthe-Wyse/100002655015112 Xanthe Wyse

    dead would probably be welcomed by them.  Maybe they just need grottier prisons for them?  Or put them together in a cage with weapons to sort themselves out? 

    My main reservations about death penalty is if someone is innocent and that someone has to do it,  even indirectly.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I’ve always found the death penalty to be wrong beyond the fact it’s for blood lust.

    My question is, why are we (people in general. General population or people with authority) given the power to decide who has the right to live and who forfeits that right? Why do we deserve that power?
    I don’t think anyone has such impeccable objective understanding of life to make a decision on who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Nobody should be making that decision. And legal systems that bestows that kind of authority on a jury is nothing more than a civilized version of mob mentality.

    • Sulris Campbell

      well then you have just given a definition at the end of your post that answers the question at the begining of your post. 

      you asked who are we to judge where the line should be drawn then drew the line at self defense… ;p

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    Sorry, John Shook,  I don’t think you can reason in this way.  In fact it is one of the reasons I reject Ayn Rand.    It not as simple as axiom taken:  “Humanism stands for valuing the lives of all, individual human
    rights, justice for everyone, and governments that defend all of their
    people.” … deduce … deduce … “Humanism cannot support the death penalty.”

    What about the value of the lives the murderer took?  Why don’t then count in termes of “valuing the lives of all, individual human
    rights, justice for everyone, and governments that defend all of their
    people.”?  I never heard any air tight logical argument that can sway me either way.   My preference is “no death penalty” but it is not something I can make absolute statements about.     I was swayed into the position.   I didn’t listen to some air tight argument which made me “know” it was the right position.He actually does a very poor job of arguing his position.   He makes straw man arguments of his opponent’s position through most of it.    For example, I could take his entire argument and use it to argue against any punishment based on jail, and argue for only compensatory penalties.    Once you lock someone up you can never ever give them their lost years back either.    You can however on discovering your error later, pay back the victim.    Of course, since his original argument was so fallacious my reworking of it would contain all the same flaws.One of the reasons I despair at that thought of getting society running on the basis of rationality is because most people are so poor at it that it’s like expecting chimps to based their societies on the concept of property rights.    The left and right howl at each other like a bunch of howler monkeys.Perhaps we should allow the death penalty at the behest of the victims representatives (family or whoever) but if they are discovered innocent later then we hold a murder trial for those who executed the victim under the color of law.   Of course there are flaws with that too.   It would set in place incentives for the system not to explore exculpatory after the fact of conviction evidence lest the players end up being punished themselves.

    • Sulris Campbell

      your reply to john sho0k was wonderful!  your idea about killing victims that wish for the death of their assailaints if said person is found to be innocent after his death is a horrible idea!  thats why we take such decision away from victims they arnt an unbiased party.  furthermore it leaves the idea of whether or not a victim should be killed after a person is put to death up to chance and luck of the draw.  i know you were just poking around with this idea, no hard feelings.  the begining of you post hit the head right on the nail though.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X