The Ethical Issue on Capital Punishment

By August 8, 2017 Philosophy

Question: Examine the ethical issue on capital punishment and discuss the extent to which it should be allowed. We live in a society where killing is deemed and known as unethical and immoral, and this is because of society’s condemnation of death. We are bounded by a set of guidelines, a social contract, and these common guidelines create boundaries – boundaries that determine how the law is formed, what is wrong and what is right, benefitting the majority of the society. By having this social contract, it enforces us to stay in within these boundaries.

The term ‘kill’ is defined as ‘causing of death to a person, animal or any living thing’. (Note that this definition does not include or suggest the intention of the killing. ) Today’s society deems killing as unethical, as it goes against and beyond social norms and mores, and because of its condemnation, killing is an immoral act that cannot be justified. However, there are few forms of killings that can actually be debated on whether it is justifiable, because of the intentions and reasons that are able to substantiate that it should be permitted.

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This essay aims to examine the pros and cons of capital punishment, and whether it should be allowed. Capital punishment is a legal authorized killing of a person as a punishment for a crime, and it is currently a highly controversial issue with valid and convincing arguments on both sides. Statistics from the Amnesty International have shown that about 137 countries have abolished the death penalty, and the highest form of punishment is life imprisonment.

This report can be said to show that the majority disapproves of the idea of capital punishment. Singapore has possibly one of the highest execution rates in the world, relative to its population of 4 million, executing over 400 prisoners in 1991. (Amnesty International. N. p. , 15 January 2004. Web. 18 Jun 2010. <http://www. amnesty. org/en/library/info/ASA36/001/2004>) Singapore applies the death penalty to the following crimes: waging or attempting to wage war; treason; mutiny; piracy that endangers life; perjury hat results in the execution of an innocent person; murder; abetting the suicide of a person under the age of 18 or an insane person; attempted murder by a prisoner serving a life sentence; kidnapping or abducting in order to murder; robbery committed by five or more people that results in the death of a person; drug trafficking; and unlawful possession of firearms. (Goldstone, Richard. IBAHRI. N. p. , 23 April 2009. Web. 19 July 2010. <http://www. ibanet. org/Human_Rights_Institute/ About_the_HRI/HRI_Activities/DP_Int_Sing. aspx>)

Many people have condemned this kind of punishment, as they think with such punishment, it disregards human life and does not give value to it. Thus, Singapore is constantly being criticized by the United Nations because of this. A letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been written by Justice Richard Goldstone last April proposing to drop the death penalty charges in Singapore. Even though there are many opposing views, Singapore still chooses to continue enforcing this law as it is acting in accordance for duty for the nation’s well being and interests.

According to Singapore’s government response to the Amnesty International Report, it says that ‘Singapore weighs the right of life of the convicted against the rights of victims and the right of the community (which represents the majority) to live in peace and security’, which why Singapore is considered one of the safest country in the world. It is because of this “punishment” enforced upon our society that ensures the safety of the country. This follows the philosophy of Immanuel Kant – “Good will is motivated by duty”, as well as the bible.

Genesis 9:5-6 says, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. ” There are also other reasons, other than philosophical and religious reasons that further substantiate why capital punishment should be allowed. One of the reasons would be cost. Most countries that abolished the death penalty have the life imprisonment as the next highest sentence, as a replacement.

However, the cost of life imprisonment is definitely much more than death penalties. Having life imprisonment meant supporting the prisoners for life until they die and that would cost a lot more than executing them. Instead of these government funds spent on these criminals, the money is better spent on the people who deserve it more, like the elderly, the poor and the needy. Another reason would be justice, or retribution, as others see it. Justice is given when the law punishes the criminal for what he or she has done, and it gives a sense of closure for the victim or the victim’s family.

Incapacitation of criminals also makes the community a safer place to be in, as they will not have another chance to commit anymore crimes whether in or out of prison. (http://www. capitalpunishmentuk. org/thoughts. html) Capital punishment is for a good cause as it ensures the safety of the majority in a community. The most debatable reason of all would be the deterrent effect on capital punishment. Many of the abolitionists claim that by keeping capital punishment as a law, it does not act as deterrence at all, as they claim that statistics shown that countries with the death penalties have increased number of murders.

However, researcher Karl Spence of Texas A&M University said: “While some [death penalty] abolitionists try to face down the results of their disastrous experiment and still argue to the contrary, the… [data] concludes that a substantial deterrent effect has been observed… In six months, more Americans are murdered than have killed by execution in this entire century… Until we begin to fight crime in earnest [by using the death penalty], every person who dies at a criminal’s hands is a victim of our inaction. “

The graph drawn by the Bureau of Criminal Justice below gives a general overview of the number of executions against murder rate that had taken place in the US from the 1930s to 2000. (Lowe, Wesley. “Pro Capital Punishment Page. ” N. p. , 2010. Web. 21 July 2010. <http://www. weselylowe. com/cp. html>) In my opinion, capital punishment being permitted does not exactly determine whether there is any deterrence in the murders and crimes, because it really is based on each individual country’s people and their way of living. One simple statistic does not determine the same for all countries.

It is really hasty generalizing and an invalid statement to conclude. There is no proof whatsoever as to whether capital punishment has proven to act as a deterrent, but however, I believe that it does play a part in controlling the amount of murders and crimes happening, as the community has a “what goes around comes around” mentality embedded in their minds. Knowing this would possibly prevent them from committing anything that would get them into trouble with the law. Looking at the context of capital punishment from the world’s point of view, it seems that death penalties are not approved of.

Many people are against capital punishment and there are a lot more reasons for this as compared to supporting the cause. Some of the reasons are the sanctity of human life, how the execution is cruel and torturous, the uselessness of it, playing God, and even how they look at capital punishment – premeditated ‘murder’. Abolitionists refer to Christian beliefs as a basis on a non-supporting view, and they believe that human life is sacred; one should not “play God” and determine when he or she should die, as it denies the right to live, as well as lowering the value of human life.

They think that capital punishment is useless, as it does not bring the victims back to life; nothing will be achieved, and by killing the accused for this, it is just losing one more life, and there is no point in it, because what’s done is done. There is also the possibility of convicting an innocent person of misdeeds, and imprisonment would serve as a better alternative to clarify matters, instead of losing an innocent life.

In addressing one of the reasons stated ‘against capital punishment’, it is ironic that the abolitionists value the sanctity of life, because in the context of a murder, they are trying to save a murderer that has already robbed someone of a chance to live, and that person obviously does not value the sacredness of life. The term ‘murder’ is also used out of context, as murder is defined as the unlawful premeditated killing of something with malicious intent. Capital punishment is therefore not a ‘premeditated murder’, as it punishes those who have done wrong.

The Christian references used as a basis to support their argument against capital punishment also had some flaws, I believe that capital punishment should not be abolished, but to remain part of the law. In the context of Singapore, the reason why Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world is because of this punishment that is enforced upon our society. Capital punishment is good because it sends a strong signal to the public, and to the would-be-offenders to think twice before committing such an offence. As Edward Koch once said: It is by exacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that we affirm the highest value of human life. ” Justice is not always fair, but when we look at the heinous crimes that these people committed, it makes us wonder what could be a severe and just punishment for them, enough for them to right what they have done. I believe that the only punishment is really for them to pay the innocent lives that they have robbed with their own, and capital punishment is the harshest extent of punishment that one can have to atone for the wrong that they have done.

Word Count: 1607 Bibliography Amnesty International. N. p. , 15 January 2004. Web. 18 Jun 2010. <http://www. amnesty. org/en/library/info/ASA36/001/2004> “Amnesty International. ” 10 Reasons to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International, 1 October 2004. Web. 2010 <http://asiapacific. amnesty. org/library/Index/ENGAFR010132004? open&amp ;amp;of=ENG-312> Goldstone, Richard. IBAHRI. N. p. , 23 April 2009. Web. 19 July 2010. <http://www. ibanet. org/Human_Rights_Institute/ About_the_HRI/HRI_Activities/DP_Int_Sing. spx> Lowe, Wesley. “Pro Capital Punishment Page. ” N. p. , 2010. Web. 21 July 2010. <http://www. weselylowe. com/cp. html> “Reasons against Capital Punishment”. 2010, n. d, Web. 21 July 2010. <http://www. buzzle. com/articles/reasons-against-capital-death-penalty. html> Robinson, Bruce A. “Capital Punishment – The Death Penalty. ” Religious Tolerance. Ontario Consultants, 4 August 2007, Web. 21 July 2010. <http://www. religioustolerance. org/exectub. htm>


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