The Death Penalty as Euthanasia

As I have noted previously, there is the actual teaching of the Church on the death penalty, and then there are two basic ways of trying to distort and ignore it.  Progressives try to say that the DP is just as immoral as abortion.  Meanwhile, reactionaries try lots of different strategies to blow off the Church’s teaching and plead for death penalty maximalism.  In the course of doing so, they make lots of incredibly bad arguments (see the link).  However, at the time I wrote the above, I had not run across this particular embarrassing act of intellectual prostitution:

A lot of jails and prisons in the US are barbaric.  Death would be  preferred by just about anyone entering them.  These liberals think they  have a clean conscience but the murder, gang rape and other acts of savagery  against inmates is something I could never sentence anyone to.  I would  have no problem sentencing a first degree murderer to death at all.   I  would never want to be responsible for knowing a prisoner would face grave acts  of torture, humiliation, rape  murdered or even sentenced to a life as a sex  slave. If this is Catholic Mercy, you can keep it.  I prefer Catholic  Justice.

Wow.  Fascinating to watch allegedly “prolife” Catholics now resorting to the language  of mercy killing in order to defy the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.  The notion of making prisons safer rather than putting prisoners  to death doesn’t even enter the mental universe of this commenter.  Now we are to believe  that killing prisoners is not vengeance or defiance of the Church’s teaching,  but just an expression of tender mercy for lives unworthy of life.  Why not just use the German term “lebens unwertes leben”?  And  if “prolife” people are going to start trotting out that language, why stop with prisoners  who have miserable lives?  There are a lot of miserable people our culture wants to kill in order to save itself the hassle of putting up with them save them from suffering.

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  • Barfly_Kokhba

    If you had ever been incarcerated you might not find it so silly. There is a part of one’s self that dies when a person is locked up for a long time, and it never comes back to life, even when that person is released. It’s as if part of one’s soul simply vanishes, withers, disappears, and is replaced by some barely perceptible, weird, distorting tint that is cast over the entire world, even on bright and sunny days. It’s like a film over the eyes, one that even prayer and tears do not remove. I wouldn’t believe it myself, if I learned about it from someone else. But I would rather die than spend my life locked up. In fact I’d rather die than spend one single day in a jail or prison.

    However I will admit that the death-penalty-as-mercy is a somewhat specious argument because one cannot make that decision for another.

    • CWB

      I HAVE been locked up. If given the choice of the living locked up or being killed by the state, I would choose to be locked up. jail is bad, I trust me, I learned my lesson all those years ago, but your claims are based more on Shawshank Redemption than reality.

      • Barfly_Kokhba

        Well all I can say is that you must have nicer facilities in your neck of the woods.

        My observations–and they are observations, not opinions–are not based on movies, my friend. It’s too bad we couldn’t discuss the issue in person. I would genuinely like to hear you impugn my integrity like that in a face-to-face situation.

      • Pete the Greek

        I wonder if it varies from facility to facility. I have heard tell that Levenworth Farm separates the REALLY nasty people from the rest, including white collar. Could be wrong, but I would tend to agree that the truly worst parts are played up a lot more in film, at least for American prisons.

        Foreign prisons, well, I’m not so sure.

    • The solution to the horrid conditions in jail (and I agree they are, for
      the most part, inhuman and immoral) is not to kill people but to improve
      the conditions.

  • Pete the Greek

    “A lot of jails and prisons in the US are barbaric. Death would be preferred by just about anyone entering them.”
    – REALLY? I’d heard this 15 years ago. Although it was phrased more along these lines: ‘Sentencing someone to life in prison forces them to live without hope. It oulw be better to use the death penalty.’

    On another note, I have also noticed that those on the extreme other wing (equating death penalty with abortion) are almost universally against any form of personal self defense, even non-lethal, which I never understood.

    Just my experience.

    • The Deuce

      On another note, I have also noticed that those on the extreme other
      wing (equating death penalty with abortion) are almost universally
      against any form of personal self defense, even non-lethal, which I
      never understood.

      I’ve seen that too. That position boils down to, “I’m not going to protect you from evil people, and I’m not going to let you protect yourself either.” It’s almost a complete moral inversion, oppression of the innocent to protect the guilty, sold as charity.

  • Dr. Eric
    • Dr. Eric

      I grew up in a town where two of the few jobs that paid a “living wage” were the maximum security prison and the mental institution. I’ve heard the stories from the guards and the “security therapy aides.” It’s worse than you can imagine. Perhaps CWB’s experiences are different based on where he was incarcerated, but the prison in my hometown had the worst of the worst. This was where John Wayne Gacy (requiescat in pace) was executed.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    So: our prisons are a fate worse than death, so we should kill people. Wouldn’t changing the prisons make more sense? Harder, I know. A heckuva lot more expensive, too. I am afraid I know so little about our prison systems that I wouldn’t know where to start with reforming them, though.

  • entonces_99

    Why not just use the German term “lebens unwertes leben”?

    The reason we are appalled by the Nazis’ use of that term is that they deemed certain *innocent* lives to be unworthy of life, not for anything those lives has done, but for what they were. You might contrast that with Pius XII’s observation that a person lawfully put to death by the state for heinous crimes has by his actions “already dispossessed himself of his right to life.”

  • entonces_99

    The reference to people “defy[ing] the Church’s teaching on the death penalty,” and the questioning of their pro-life bona fides, ignore the fact that, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about . . . applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

  • SwordOfLight

    Mr. Shea, just wanted to share “Life Matters Journal” with you, its lead by Catholics who are tired of the above newspeak by both “liberal” and “conservative” alike.

  • Jimby

    It does seem to be the case that a good Catholic, interested in curbing the death penalty, ought only rarely to let a discussion of the death penalty’s inadvisability conclude without adding a word or two about the desperate need for prison reform in the so-called “developed” or “first” world.

    After all, the conditional for disallowing the death penalty in the U.S. and places like it presumes that the prisoner can be safely kept in prison, right? Without serious risk to society? Of which that prisoner is still, albeit incarcerated, a beloved member?

    Isn’t there a limit, Mark, after which a prison is so corrupt that it really can’t be considered humane to incarcerate someone in it? If so, and if a prosecutor or judge judges that that limit has been reached, and if the criminal cannot be released to lesser prisons or civil society, then the death penalty may be the only option, even as said judge or prosecutor vociferously agitated for the reform of said “prison”.

    That is, I think you mean to criticize the lack of integrity in such a slothful position as “I’d rather kill ’em and be at ease than deal with the mighty task of prison reform”. Or you mean to criticize an all too conveniently precious line drawing (“this prison is completely unfit and unreformable in the near-term”). But the idea that you could not resort to the death penalty if such an actual and sensible–not slothful and hypocritical–limit were reached seems to confound the whole teaching on why the death penalty is NOT the same as abortion.

    Thinking things through….

  • Nick


    It is reasonable to believe jails are not as safe inside as the tv shows might lead us to think. Why imagine that rape and physical violence doesn’t take place on a regular basis in that ‘society’ of depraved individuals? If that is indeed the case, it is wrong to knowingly send an individual to a place where he will be effectively tortured. You’re big on the no-torture stuff, so surely you should be VERY cautious about sending folks to potential torture chambers. I’ve heard situations where judges actually didn’t send certain people
    to prison precisely because it would have meant getting raped/murdered.

    The solution doesn’t have to be a “mercy kill” in the form of DP, but to say jail is definitely the way to go (not sure if you’ve crossed that line though) is just as irresponsible.

    I’d actually argue that if an individual inmate is known for being violent/rapist WITHIN the prison walls, then they’ve crossed the line that even the Catechism envisions regarding the protection of the safety of others. There’s no sense in which a prisoner who will stop at nothing, even long periods of ‘seclusion’ (which I don’t see how you could defend, since it’s a form of torture), to take out their anger on someone. At the very least there should be a one-strike rule WITHIN the prison, where if a person locked up commits rape or murder, he’s too dangerous to keep alive.

  • Martin Barlow

    If prisons are really as bad as this, so bad that death is preferable, then juries should refuse to convict, and judges refuse to sentence people to prison. If they started doing this in significant numbers, then I bet the problems of bad prisons would get fixed pretty quickly.

    • entonces_99

      The problem is not just that most prisons are “bad” (i.e., inhumanly dangerous). It’s that, for prisons not to be bad, they either have to (1) not hold any bad people, or (2) would have to hold people pretty under permanent conditions of solitary confinement, which are inhumane in a whole nother way–especially when you’re talking about a life sentence without the possibility of parole as an acceptable alternative to capital punishment.

  • michael

    In one of his interview books in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio referred to the Death Penalty as “immoral.” Once again, this shows not development of doctrine, but rather rupture and discontinuity with the past teachings of the Holy Faith and the moral law. The meanings of teachings never change and never evolve into something different than before. As many are aware, the popes for centuries regularly had criminals executed in the Papal States. The guillotine for such executions is still on display in the criminology museum in Rome. A Mr. Bugatti was the official executioner for many years and he would go to confession and Holy Communion on the day of the execution. The Council of Trent and St. Thomas Aquinas teach that the Death Penalty is good for society and is not a violation of the 5th Commandment. And yet the bishops of nearly every western country consider capital punishment as being “incompatible with the Gospel” and against “human dignity.” Bl. John Paul II stated that the death penalty was “always cruel and unnecessary.” It’s actually shameful and even scandalous to see how far off track we’ve gone.