Moral Abiguity of Capital Punishment In America
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In recent news there has been a highly controversial issue regarding the use of capital punishment. Studies have shown that the newest form of punishment to those on death row may not be as beneficial and painless as once thought. Lethal injection could in fact be excruciatingly painful to the inmates that are put through it. This form of punishment took the place of the electric chair back in the 1970’s as the best form of execution. Those against capital punishment are still criticizing the use of lethal injection today along with any other form of execution. So it all comes down to what is morally and ethically right or wrong and the question still rises. Do you believe that capital punishment is the right way in today’s society?
One of the worst botched executions in history took place in December, 2006. Angel Diaz was convicted of murder of a bar owner in 1979 and was sentenced to death (www.sptimes.com). He was given the lethal injection on December 13. Something went terribly wrong during the execution however. During a lethal injection, the inmate is first injected with sodium thiopental which puts them to sleep. Then pancuronium bromide is given which paralyzes the entire muscle system and stops the inmate’s breathing. Last is a flow of potassium chloride which stops the heart (par. 1). Diaz remained alive during his execution for 34 minutes, which is 3 times longer than usual. A reporter there stated
that Diaz struggled to breathe for 11 minutes. Then it was over.
Experts say that whoever administered the injection could have punctured the vein and the chemicals could have been put into his flesh rather than the blood stream. If they were put straight into his blood stream they would have reached his heart much faster. Instead he probably went through intense chemical burns and excruciating pain before finally dying. Because of this, lethal injection is now being questioned. It is now considered nothing but “cruel and unusual” punishment to many. There are those that still believe in the “eye for an eye” philosophy however.
Capital punishment has been around for thousands of years. Back in medieval times and even earlier, decapitations were very common for criminals and those against the crown. Then hanging came into play in the 1700’s and 1800’s. This was the primary method of execution in the United States until the 1890’s when electrocution replaced it.
The electric chair was supposed to be a more humane way of execution. Although in some ways it proved to be extremely inhumane. “The prisoner’s eyeballs can pop out of his head and he normally vomits or defecates on himself and there is a sickly smell of the burnt flesh in the end” (par.2). Needless to say it too got replaced with what we use now, lethal injection. There have been other forms of capital punishment. Lethal gas is another form. This is where an inmate was put in a gas chamber and was forced to breathe cyanide gas. The last form of punishment is the firing squad. The prisoner is strapped to a chair and a black hood place over the head in front of a wall. A doctor uses a stethoscope to find his heart and places a white target over it. Five shooters are armed with .30 caliber rifles and they shoot at the victim until he is pronounced dead. Every form of punishment that has ever been introduced is introduced to try and find a more humane way.
In today’s society we all care about what is morally and ethically right. The issue of capital punishment will be a highly controversial one for a long time.
Another criticism of the death penalty in America is the racial factor. Minorities usually make up the largest percent of those sentenced to death in court. Of the 21 people sentenced in 2001, 81% were black or Hispanic. To jurors, if a black person is accused of killing a white then the defendant could appear stereotypically black which could change how the jury makes their decision. There are many factors that could be included in the way someone is judged however.
Those of us that support the death penalty and capital punishment have just as many reasons as those who oppose it. It all goes back to the “eye for an eye” philosophy. Back in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the Oklahoma City bombing, he was sentenced to the death penalty. In the early 2000’s right before his execution in 2001, there was huge controversy. Apparently there was argument that a mishandling of documents occurred. McVeigh’s defense team requested a delay in the execution to review the documents (Zimring 4). Those for and against the execution were effected by this. In the end, it was proved that McVeigh did indeed blow up that building and he deserved to be put to death. There are thousands of killers out there that are convicted every year and not many actually get the death penalty. The high ratio of condemned prisoners to death in most states is about 200 to 1 (Zimring 8). Experts that support the death penalty say that if more convicts that have pleaded guilty for murder were actually sentenced to death, this could in fact change the numbers of the people who murder. Of
course there are those that can be wrongly accused, but that’s where the judicial system needs to step in and correct their problems. A good example of the system gone awry was the West Memphis Three case back in 1993. Three teenage boys were convicted of killing three eight year old boys. However, no pure evidence was brought against them except accusations of Satanism because of the music they listened to and the clothes they wore (www.wm3.org). One of the teenagers has actually been sentenced to death by lethal injection. Now if hard evidence shows up that the teenagers actually killed the boys, then when he is given the lethal injection, justice will be served. However, if no evidence ever shows up then an innocent man could be put to death.
There are many other arguments for the death penalty. It permanently removes killers or rapists out of our society. This proves to be much cheaper and safer for the rest of us than to keep them incarcerated for years and years. A state is better off to spend money on the young, old, and the sick rather than spend it on keeping a murderer imprisoned. Perhaps the most apparent reason for supporting it is the fact that a dead criminal can’t exactly go out and commit any crimes or kill anyone else. Retribution is another pro of capital punishment. The death penalty is a very “real” punishment. Instead of sending the criminal through some rehabilitative program, he is forced to suffer for what he’s done (par. 3). It is also a known fact that the families of victims who became prey to these killers also feel somewhat of a sense of security when the murderer is put to death.
In the end it all boils down to that same question. Is capital punishment morally and ethically correct? The answer may never be officially solved. People will always take their stand on the side they choose. Just remember to include all the aspects and details of both sides of the story before closing your mind to one.
“Descriptions of Execution Methods”. Death Penalty Information Center Online. Online. Internet. 2007. October 1, 2007. www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.
Tisch, Chris and Krueger, Curtis. “Executed Man takes 34 Minutes to die”. St. Petersburg Times Online. Online. Internet. December 13, 2006. October 4, 2007. . www.sptimes.com.
Zimring, Franklin E. “The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment”. Studies in Crime and Public Policy. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003.