“Discuss the Contention That the Death Penalty Represents the Ultimate, Irreversible Denial of Human Rights.”

Topics: Morality, Crime, Ethics Pages: 6 (2028 words) Published: August 6, 2008
“The death penalty—society’s ultimate sanction, one that leaves no room for human error and one that is irreversible.” The death penalty has existed for as long as the human culture has. “One of the first written codes of law, composed by Hammurabi of Babylonia and carved on a stone column nearly four thousand years ago includes death as an appropriate punishment.” However, the death penalty has become a controversial issue in recent years. Much of the controversy lies in the fact that it is an irreversible action. The controversy does not stop there. Whether or not the death penalty is a deterrent for the commission of future crimes by others and whether or not it can be considered cruel and unusual punishment leaves room for questioning the morality of this subject.

In my opinion, the death penalty does represent the ultimate, irreversible denial of ones human rights but can be justified as moral action through most of the ethical systems with the exception of one or two of these systems. I do not believe that the death penalty is an immoral act since the person being sentenced to death is the only one to blame for being sentenced to such a punishment. The death penalty serves as a method to remove dangerous people from society and also as a deterrent for people who may choose to be involved in future crimes. My opinion is justified by some statistics that I will discuss later in this essay and is also justified by many of the seven ethical systems, which will also be discussed throughout this essay. It is important to discuss terms such as cruel and unusual punishment, deterrence, and retribution in order to further understand the reasons for such great controversy.

The American constitution provides U.S citizens with protection from cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment. This is also a major cause for controversy since most opponents of the death penalty believe it is a cruel and unusual punishment. What makes a punishment cruel and unusual? According to the Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia, there are terms that have been defined to clarify the terms “cruel and unusual punishment”. Punishments that are rarely, if ever used thus become unusual if used against one individual or a group. They become arbitrary punishments because the decision to use them is so infrequent. Civilization is evolving and punishments considered acceptable in the nineteenth century are no longer acceptable in the twentieth century. A yardstick for all punishment is to test it against the public conscience. If people are naturally repelled by the punishment, then it must be cruel and unusual by definition. Any punishment that is excessive to its purpose or disproportionately administered is considered wrong. If the purpose of punishment is to deter crime, then we should only administer an amount necessary to do so. These terms serve as a clarification for the use of the terms cruel and unusual punishment. I don’t believe the death penalty can be considered an unusual punishment since it is commonly assigned to offenders who have committed murders. Although the death penalty has been around for so long, the punishment still serves its purpose in our society today therefore making it an acceptable punishment in accordance with the evolving standards of decency.

The death penalty is only assigned to offenders who have taken someone else’s life and cannot be considered excessive or disproportionate if the punishment is assigned only for that type of criminal offense. Lastly, the death penalty cannot be considered unnecessary since a major purpose of it is to deter crime.

Deterrence is also a major cause for making the death penalty such a controversial subject. “Deterrence is a theory that says that punishment stops others committing future crimes.” There are two more specific types of deterrence: specific deterrence and general deterrence. “Specific deterrence is what is done to...

Bibliography: Baird, Robert M. (1995) Punishment and the Death Penalty: The Current Debate.Prometheus Books. New York.
Bedau, Hugo. (2004) Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? Oxford University Press.Oxford
Bender, David L. (1991) The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven Press.
Pollock, Jocelyn.(2004) Ethics in Crime and Justice: Determining Moral Behavior.Wadsworth.
Flynn, James R. “The Unresolvability of Ethical Disputes.” The Philosophical Quarterly. Vol.
24. No. 97. 1974.
Rankin, Joseph H. “Changing Attitudes toward Capital Punishment.” Social Forces. Vol. 58.
No. 1. 1979.
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