Monday, January 28, 2008

The daunting death penalty conundrum

The death penalty has always been an interesting issue for me, especially considering one part of me is adamantly opposed to the death penalty, and another adamantly in support of it.

There was an issue of Law and Order recently where a person on death row was given an injection and did not die right away. I think the moral of that episode was to at least make people aware that death by injection may not be the most humane way to eliminate a person.

One argument in opposition to the death penalty is that the guilt associated with living out ones life behind bars is the best punishment. One argument in support of the death penalty is that the person had no remorse, so why should we have remorse for him. Or, why does the death penalty have to be humane, when the act itself was not.

One of my fellow medical blogger at everydaynurses (,brought this up in a recent post. In a nonpartisan way, she mentioned that the Supreme Court is presently reviewing the "humanity" of the lethal injection.

And I thought it was interesting that most of the comments to her article were in support of her on this, and I can't say I disagree either. However, our opinions on this matter might have everything to do with the fact of why we decided to go into the medical profession in the first place -- because we are caring and compassionate people.

However, the person who sits on death row did not have compassion for his victim, nor did he have compassion for the the family members who have to spend the rest of their lives coping with the death of a loved one.

Either way, I wouldn't want to be the one making the decision. This is why I became a respiratory therapist instead of a politician, or a lawyer, or a judge. All I have to concentrate on is the ethics of medicine within the hospital.

That doesn't mean I can't form an opinion on the death penalty though. The religious, Catholic, side of me has me thinking that the death penalty is inhumane in itself, and it is not the role of we humans to inflict the death penalty, but for God to judge this person as he stands by the pearly gates.

And it is the role of us humans to convict and hold this person behind bars until his time of judgement comes. It is also the argument that this is the worse punishment for the convicted, because he will have the rest of his life to live with the guilt.

Then again, the supporters of the death penalty will argue that many people, if not most of them, who are capable of killing do not feel guilt. And, therefore, it is our job put these people out of service.

People in support of life sentences proclaim that the cost of keeping someone in jail for a lifetime is now less expensive than having someone on death row, as the cost of all the appeals and lawyers accumulates. Supporters of death row say that the convicted killer should be exterminated so that he has no possibility of ever doing something like this again, regardless of the cost.

Supports contend that knowing that you will get the death penalty if you are found guilty of murdering is incentive enough for one not to murder. Opposers contend that if someone is mad enough to murder, the last thing on his mind is the consequence of his actions.

Opposers say that "what if" a person didn't commit the crime, and was found guilty by a jury of his pears by faulty evidence or due to the actions of bad lawyers or judges. Supporters say that with the new advances in forensic evidence make it highly unlikely a person will be convicted for a crime he did not commit.

So, you can easily see how making a decision on whether one agrees or disagrees with the death penalty can be a daunting one. Personally, this is not a big issue for me. Whether or not a politician supports the death penalty is not a determining factor on who I vote for.

I think that most people who have had a friend or family member murdered would have a pretty good case for supporting the death penalty. That convicted person took the life away of another human being, and we must not take the chance that person will ever get back out to commit the crime again. He must pay for his crime.

However, there are yet some God fearing people in the same boat who always find it in their hearts to forgive, even while they may never forget.

While a part of me thinks the people caught in the act of injecting the poison, or pulling the trigger, are guilty of murder and should be themselves judged by God for the inhumane act, another part of me thinks that we should get rid of these murderers.

However, I don't think it's good that our nation has become wimpy in dealing with issues such as this. I do not think these people should be rehabilitated or found innocent on grounds of insanity. If you did kill someone, then you should either get life in prison, or the death penalty.

I like imprisonment without the possibility of parole for most convicted murderers, and for those who are convicted of the most heinous of crimes, like serial killers like Jack the Ripper or Saddam Hussein, should get the death penalty without a doubt, so long as the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is guilty.

Now, what do we do if the Supreme Court finds lethal injection inhumane? Do we create a Federal law banning the death penalty, or do we go back to the electric chair, or the shooting range, hanging or, God forbid, the guillotine.

I know there are good arguments against all of these as being inhumane. Death by shooting may not be instant, nor death by electrocution. And a man who is hung may hang for hours before he actually dies. The guillotine, then, might be the messiest, but it would guarantee instant death.

It's a tough ethical issue, and I'm glad I don't have to decide. Perhaps it would be best simply to let the convinced murderer decide which method he prefers. Isn't it this way in some states anyway?

Anyway, on this issue, as a compassionate respiratory therapist, I like to tell my friends I am religiously against the death penalty, and politically for it.

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