Thursday, September 22, 2011

Countries That Execute Their Own Citizens

 
Most civilized, democratic countries have abolished capital punishment. This is especially true of those countries with a Christian tradition.

The last execution in Canada took place in 1962 and the last one in Mexico was in 1961. Here's a short list of other countries with the last year of execution: Australia (1967), Israel (1962), Brazil (1876), Argentina (1916), United Kingdom (1964), France (1977), and Italy (1947).

[Blue: capital punishment abolished for all crimes; Green: abolished for all crimes expect some committed in exceptional circumstances; Brown: abolished in practice; Red: legal form of punishment]

The United States differs from its geographical and cultural neighbors. Why does the United States still carry out executions in 2011 when the practice has ceased in all those countries with a similar cultural and religious background?


61 comments :

  1. I read of executions in Mexico all the time, they just aren’t state sanctioned ones. I am not sure that that country should be held up to emulate, there is great lawlessness there and the government does not seem to be willing or able to stop it. One link from 2010. http://www.chron.com/news/nation-world/article/Torture-executions-leave-39-dead-in-2-Mexico-1707075.php

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  2. Not quite.

    Christopher Hitchens argues that what distinguish those countries that murder their citizens from those that don't is how religious they are.

    Most of the western world (Canada included) has fairly mild and waning religious observance.

    The US and most of the other capital punishment countries are as a rule strongly religious or totalitarian (China) or both.

    I think he may have a point.

    Source

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  3. Executions are popular among some segments of the public in the United States:

    This is from our Republican debate:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZlDF9VCbrg

    Note the applause 10 seconds into it...

    Sad to say, but our culture is very immature.

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  4. Xzanron,

    Unless there is a (causal) correlation between religiosity and authoritarianism the line of reasoning you propose doesn't make sense to me.

    Claim: Religion leads people to execute their countrymen.

    Support: Most countries that still have the death penalty are either more religious than the norm OR authoritarian (or some combination of the two).

    Perhaps authoritarianism is the driving factor and the U.S. is an outlier.

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  5. Off-topic, but I find it interesting that the last state execution in Brazil predates the abolition of slavery in that country by more than a decade. Were slaves still legally killed, but not considered executions, for that period?

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  6. What is the proper punishment for someone who pre-meditates to murder someone and then executes them in accord with their pre-meditation?

    It seems basic sense and justice to me that if you pre-meditate and murder someone, you in turn lose your life.

    Otherwise what is the point of our accepting a social contract where our life is not valued? And basic sense and justice are not upheld?

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  7. So what, in your judgement, would be an appropriate sentence for someone convicted of a crime such as this and how would you justify it?

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  8. When I was younger, the standard trope about those heathen countries was how little value they placed upon human life. It always seemed to me that was highly ironic coming from the United States. Human life has little value there, or they'd have universal healthcare, viable unemployment insurance, and good public health programs. And they wouldn't kill people on bureaucratic procedural grounds.

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  9. Why does the United States still carry out executions in 2011 when the practice has ceased in all those countries with a similar cultural and religious background?

    As the person above said: We're not a similar culture with a similar background.

    And if the map was accurate, you could see this.

    Wisconsin (where I am) has not had an execution since the mid 1800s; because it is very much like, though was quicker to get to that point than, oh, Canada.

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  10. @ HisTreasuredPossession

    Those that are "highly religious" believe in an afterlife. So killing someone who was innocent does not erase them. They go on, and are probably judged kindly for being killed in the little mix-up. This reasoning was explicitly spelled out in the witch trials of the Dark Ages.

    Atheists and agnostics believe you end a person's existence at the moment of death. So we get very nervous about killing the wrong person. (see http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/21/the-night-the-lights-went-out-in-georgia/).

    No one is claiming that religioun causes capital punishment. But justifying it (and the odd mistake that comes with it) is easier if you believe in an afterlife. There is something more to the argument than the simple correlation you are spelling out above.

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  11. @ Comrade Carter

    Point taken, but the nuances of the very patriotic America that then says "but what they do over in Texas or Georgia is wrong" is lost on many outside the US.

    That maps shows nations. The US does execute for crimes. The rest of us maintain hope that the level-headed Wisconsin thinking on the topic will prevail one day across the US.

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  12. @HisTreasuredPossession

    are not religiosity and authoritarianism (however it may present itself)two very similar things. That is, doesn't fealty to a god (if it significantly underwrites a nation's beliefs, governance and laws) manifest itself as a form of authoritarianism?

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  13. Israel does not have a death penalty with the exception of Nazi war criminals. The 1962 execution to which Prof. Moran cites was convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Subsequently, accused Nazi war criminal John "Ivan" Demjanjuk
    was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged but his conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court when evidence was uncovered that he was not the man "Ivan the Terrible."

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  14. @Comrade Carter: Wisconsin (where I am) has not had an execution since the mid 1800s; because it is very much like, though was quicker to get to that point than, oh, Canada.

    It isn't strictly a fair comparison. In Canada, criminal law is entirely federal. There's only the one standard. There maybe have been isolated communities in Canada, analogous of Wisconsin, ready to dispense with the death penalty in 1880, if not earlier, but it wasn't within their purview. Unlike US states, Canadian provinces don't make that call.

    That said, where the call is made at the federal level, where a strict comparison can be made, Wisconsin hasn't prevailed, not in 1880 or 1980. Maybe by 2080.

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  15. The invisible sky fairy that the religious claim to believe in was created by humans in their own image and it should come as no surprise that it's attributes reflect those that made it up, namely bronze age tribal cultures where retribution played a large part in what passed for justice in those times.

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  16. @The Other Jim: No one is claiming that religioun causes capital punishment. But justifying it (and the odd mistake that comes with it) is easier if you believe in an afterlife.

    Not to mention a steadfast belief in objective morality, handed down from an unimpeachable (if undemonstrable) source. Not having to think about what you're doing, what its ramifications might be, and whether it's right or wrong, or justifiable, is a big part of being truly devout.

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  17. Anyone who believes in capital punishment should simply Google 'charles smith pathologist'. Many of the autopsies he did proved that people viciously and savagely murdered innocents, some of them children. Trouble is, his 'proofs' were bogus, and the people sent to jail were completely innocent. If we still had the death penalty in Canada some of his victims would no doubt have gone to the gallows. And once an innocent person is dead you can't bring them back.

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  18. I wonder if a propensity to execute your own citizens is linked to a comparatively large income inequality.

    What made this cross my mind is an interesting article in "Christianity Today": Religion and Inequality Go Hand-in-Hand. Hat tip to John Pieret (Thoughts in a Haystack Sept 17).

    Also... very strange reasoning by anonymous above who suggests that NOT executing people for premeditated murder indicates that life is not valued. In fact, of course, it is precisely the reverse. The more you value life, the less likely you are to kill someone who kills others.

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  19. My hunch is that the US has a strong culture of revenge. Sweeping claims lumping bible belt US together with China are probabaly nonsense.

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  20. Perhaps authoritarianism is the driving factor and the U.S. is an outlier.

    If authoritarianism is the driving factor, then the U.S. isn't such an outlier. However much we flatter ourselves about our freedoms, we possess them to the degree that they remain unused to challenge government and corporate policy. Otherwise, watch out. Jules Boykoff's Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States lays this bare.

    Right now we're undergoing the process of what Michel Foucault called "internal colonialism"—basically if it works in Fallujah, let's try it in Detroit. So we get massive amounts of surveillance, a quick grope courtesy of the TSA, checkpoints and roadblocks, paramilitary police forces with APCs and other high-tech military hardware. None of these things actually stop crime, as the roadblocks in the Trinidad neighborhood of D.C. showed, and as simple common sense dictates—an APC is no use in responding to a burglary—but instead they exist to inculcate a sense of powerlessness and a sense of obedience in the civilian population. "Don't make trouble or we'll bring out the big guns." The government is very much afraid of its own population, particularly its own urban population. If this were truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, why would they have cause to fear the majority of their population?

    Anyone who believes in capital punishment should simply Google 'charles smith pathologist'.

    Or watch Erroll Morris' The Thin Blue Line, the only documentary to get a man off death row.

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  21. Capital punishment works.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/us/18deter.html?pagewanted=all

    Yes, sometimes innocents will be killed. That's life. There are trade offs everywhere all the time. Innocents get killed all the time for a great number of reasons. A great number of seemingly mundane decisions indirectly cost many people's lives. That is life too. There is nothing sacred about human life. Morals are man made and they are pragmatic.

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  22. It isn't strictly a fair comparison. In Canada, criminal law is entirely federal. There's only the one standard. There maybe have been isolated communities in Canada, analogous of Wisconsin, ready to dispense with the death penalty in 1880, if not earlier, but it wasn't within their purview. Unlike US states, Canadian provinces don't make that call.

    I think it is a very fair comparison, Wisconsin is a place where there is NO death penalty. Exactly like Canada. Except, in Wisconsin, it's been a longer time and what the law is is based on states, not on the federal system.

    Canada got rid of the death penalty, and good for them. Wisconsin did the same, but did it much earlier.

    For example here:

    http://www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&template=/cm/htmldisplay.cfm&contentid=50092

    Congratulations to Canada, and may the United States (as a federal government) follow quickly.

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  23. @ HisTreasuredPossession

    I recommend reading the Hitchens' piece I linked to, it's nowhere near as simple as you make it out to be.

    From the article:

    "The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout! The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)"

    There is much more in the article about the death penalty and various incarnations of it. But this is the point I was referring to.

    @ Anonymous

    What is the proper punishment for someone who pre-meditates to murder someone and then executes them in accord with their pre-meditation?

    If you follow that logic to it's conclusion then a government that puts a massive apparatus in place to murder people (pre-meditation) and then acts upon that pre-meditation and executes people should be itself put to death.

    I have no problem with that.

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  24. Interesting although not unexpected. Almost everyone is opposed to the death penalty but no one has stepped forward to answer my question concerning what would be an appropriate sentence for a crime such as the murder of Dr William Petit's family. Being against something is quite easy. Coming up with a better alternative is much harder.

    Like, I think, John Wilkins, I have the highest regard for the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, especially for his treatise On Liberty. Here, however, I would like to quote a passage from a speech he gave to the English House of Commons on April 21, 1868 opposing a Bill for the abolition of capital punishment:

    When there has been brought home to any one, by conclusive evidence, the greatest crime known to the law; and when the attendant circumstances suggest no palliation of the guilt, no hope that the culprit may even yet not be unworthy to live among mankind, nothing to make it probable that the crime was an exception to his general character rather than a consequence of it, then I confess it appears to me that to deprive the criminal of the life of which he has proved himself to be unworthy--solemnly to blot him out from the fellowship of mankind and from the catalogue of the living--is the most appropriate as it is certainly the most impressive, mode in which society can attach to so great a crime the penal consequences which for the security of life it is indispensable to annex to it. I defend this penalty, when confined to atrocious cases, on the very ground on which it is commonly attacked--on that of humanity to the criminal; as beyond comparison the least cruel mode in which it is possible adequately to deter from the crime.

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  25. Ian H Spedding says,

    Interesting although not unexpected. Almost everyone is opposed to the death penalty but no one has stepped forward to answer my question concerning what would be an appropriate sentence for a crime such as the murder of Dr William Petit's family.

    The appropriate sentence is rehabilitation if possible, life imprisonment if not.

    What answer did you expect? Don't you understsnd that those of us opposed to the death penalty will never countenance execution, no matter how heinous the crime?

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  26. @ Comrade Carter: Wisconsin is a place where there is NO death penalty.

    For state offenses. Winconsinites have been, and continue to be, subject to execution for federal crimes, like everyone else in the United States. You could still be executed in Wisconsin after 1853, and you still can.

    There is no provincial equivalent to "state crime" in Canada; the Constitution does not make provision for it (hence, there's no way for a province to abolish a practice it doesn't administer). It exists only at the federal level. As such, the last execution anywhere in Canada was in 1962, and the death penalty was removed from the Criminal Code in 1976. On the other hand, the list of federal offenses for which anyone in the US, including Wisconsonites, is subject to execution, is considerable:

    Causing death by using a chemical weapon
    Killing a member of the Congress, the Cabinet or United States Supreme Court
    Kidnapping a member of the Congress, the Cabinet or Supreme Court resulting in death
    Conspiracy to kill a member of the Congress, the Cabinet or Supreme Court resulting in death
    Causing death by using an explosive
    Causing death by using an illegal firearm
    Genocide
    First degree murder
    Murder perpetrated by poison or lying in wait
    Murder that is willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated
    Murder in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate any arson, escape, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery
    Murder perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children
    Murder committed by a federal prisoner or an escaped federal prisoner sentenced to 15 years to life or a more severe penalty
    Assassinating the President or a member of his staff
    Kidnapping the President or a member of his staff resulting in death
    Killing persons aiding Federal investigations or State correctional officers
    Sexual abuse resulting in death
    Sexual exploitation of children resulting in death
    Torture resulting in death
    War crimes resulting in death
    Crimes Against Humanity
    Large-scale drug trafficking
    Attempting, authorizing or advising the killing of any officer, juror, or witness in cases involving a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, even if such killing does not occur.
    Espionage
    Treason


    Props to Wisconsin for getting the ball rolling, but the job isn't even half finished. Not with the US federal government and the vast majority of US states retentionist.

    There's always secession.

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  27. Anonymous said: Capital punishment works.

    The only justification I can even imagine would be as a deterrent to crime. Yet your chances of being murdered in the US per capita are much greater than it is in similar countries where the death penalty has been abolished. Indeed, within the US, the states you're most likely to be murdered in are by and large retentionist. I won't go so far as to say that those points are necessarily correlative, but I'm strongly inclined to see it that way.

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  28. @ Ian H Spedding:

    It's not hard to dig up horror stories and then use them as your pry bar to just dispose of anyone in your society you happen to find it convenient to do so. Of course even opponents of the death penalty can be shocked and have their confidence in humanity shaken. But it comes down to this, where I'm concerned: if a society holds it central that human life is sacred--that it's wrong to kill, particularly premeditatedly--then it's wrong for the society to do so as an instrument of policy. To do otherwise is simply hypocritical.

    It's either a principle, or it isn't.

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  29. Don't you understsnd that those of us opposed to the death penalty will never countenance execution, no matter how heinous the crime?

    I do understand. I am only not sure exactly why. As I heard it before, the position is almost entirely irrational and grounded in something that is very hard to distinguish from religious belief. Is that where you are coming from? "Because it's just wrong. Period."? If not, care to elaborate? Thanks!

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  30. But it comes down to this, where I'm concerned: if a society holds it central that human life is sacred--that it's wrong to kill, particularly premeditatedly--then it's wrong for the society to do so as an instrument of policy. To do otherwise is simply hypocritical.

    It's either a principle, or it isn't


    Except that the prohibition against killing in our societies is not absolute. There are lawful exceptions.

    In time of war, for example, it is not only lawful for members of the armed services to kill it can be their duty. Police are permitted to use deadly force in extreme circumstances and even you or I can kill to defend ourselves or others although we may be required to justify that action in court.

    If society so decides, execution can also be a lawful exception to the prohibition against killing.

    And if human life is held to be sacred then, again, what is the appropriate response of society to what is arguably the worst offense one person can commit against another? If I am permitted to kill someone who is attempting to kill me why shouldn't society be able to apply the ultimate sanction against someone who has actually murdered another?

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  31. Joseph Esfandiar Hannon BozorgmehrSaturday, September 24, 2011 8:37:00 AM

    What is barbaric, Larry, is the denial of the family of the victim to due retribution for the crime of the perpetrator.In Iran, Islamic law permits the aggrieved family the right to either forgive the murderer or to demand his execution. Blood money is usually received if they decide to forgo their lawful right to retribution.

    The Canadian government, which is zealously pro-Israeli, frequently attacks Iran for its use of capital punishment while it permits "genocide in the womb" through uncontrolled abortion: A fine example of the utter hypocrisy of western, liberal "civilization".

    You are a biologist,Dr.Moran. You ought to know that a human foetus is a sentient and living being. It has a right to live. You can't kill it just because its mother didn't use contraception.

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  32. @Anonymous

    As I heard it before, the position is almost entirely irrational and grounded in something that is very hard to distinguish from religious belief.

    It's not. Here's my, entirely rational view:

    As deterrent? No.
    When hanging (in the UK) was the norm for anyone caught pick-pocketing and execution was swift (not 40 years later) pick-pockets were almost always working the crowds at hangings. Criminals don't think they'll be caught. True enough in our time, and people like drug dealers have much more scary sources of deterrent (e.g. their rivals) than the remote possibility of being a) caught, and b) executed 40 years from now if a) should happen.

    Preventing Future Crime? No.
    You can lock them up until they drop dead naturally instead, people will be just as safe.

    Cost? No.
    In the US, it costs the state more to kill someone, than it would to look them up for the rest of their life. To make cost a reason you'd have to remove all semblance of justice from the process.

    Other than vindictiveness, revenge or simple blood-lust, I can see no other reason why you'd need to execute someone and those are the wrong reasons to do anything.

    Reasons not to execute someone? Our courts/witnesses/jurors are not infallible. They can make mistakes. Killing someone is final. Also any bureaucracy tends to simply grinds its wheels and will happily execute someone palpably innocent as long as all the forms are filled out correctly.

    Then there are the (supposedly) Christian notions of forgiveness and repentance. Kind of hard to repent and turn your life around if you're dead. A rehabilitated criminal (even one you will never again leave jail) could potentially still contribute to society, and atone for his crimes. A corpse cannot.

    Also, since I don't believe in an afterlife, I'd much rather a criminal lives a long time in jail so that they have a very long time to contemplate their folly, their dreams haunted by what they've done and what it's cost them. Not giving them a quick out. A touch vindictive, I grant you, but this at least doesn't preclude the possibility of them actually rehabilitating; or being freed if innocent.

    That's why I'm convinced executions are not just morally wrong, but also rationally wrong. I can see no rational reason for having a death penalty.

    That leaves only vindictiveness, revenge and blood-lust. Is it any wonder I consider the practice barbaric?

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  33. It's not revenge if you call it justice.

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  34. Boojum said: "It's not revenge if you call it justice."

    So if I call a giraffe a watermelon does its neck shrink? If you think that it's okay to kill someone just by renaming the procedure then get the hell out of my solar system.

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  35. Re Joseph Esfandiar Hannon Bo

    You are a biologist,Dr.Moran. You ought to know that a human foetus is a sentient and living being. It has a right to live. You can't kill it just because its mother didn't use contraception.

    In this statement, Mr. Esfandiar demonstrates either total ignorance of the science of development or he is a liar, in addition to being a woman hating male chauvinist.

    1. In the first 3 months of pregnancy, contrary to Mr. Esfandiar's statement, the fetus is not a sentient human being as the fetal brain is undeveloped. Thus, the fetus cannot feel pain.

    2. Mr. Esfandiar's position essentially is that pregnancy is punishment for a woman who didn't use birth control. This is, of course, a typical right wing religious dominionist position and is an example of male chauvinism at its worst. How about a woman who is raped? She had no ability to employ birth control.

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  36. What answer did you expect? Don't you understsnd that those of us opposed to the death penalty will never countenance execution, no matter how heinous the crime?

    Yes I do understand. I understand that most people who believe as you do believe the prohibition against killing overrides all other considerations.

    Except in the case of abortion, of course.

    And I'm assuming you would be prepared to kill, if the worst came to the worst, to defend yourself or members of your family or friends or, indeed, anyone else whose life was threatened unlawfully. Or am I assuming to much?

    What I do not understand is that I have the impression that you believe in the importance on empathy and the Golden Rule as much as I do. If that is the case then you can put yourself in the position of the victims of the crime I cited to illustate my case. You can imagine, if only distantly, the fear and the pain of those terrible last hours and minutes. Given that, what I cannot understand is how you can deny that the perpetrators of such a heinous crime do not deserve the most extreme penalty.

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  37. I am pro-abortion but these hypocritical dances around the fetus issues are truly annoying.

    So, if I don't feel pain, it's OK to kill me now? Why can't most "pro-choice" defenders be honest and admit that we can kill other humans when our interests so require? We kill other humans in self-defense, during wars, as a preventative measure (capital punishment) and for various reasons during pregnancy. That's the way humans live. Claims of otherwise are lies, plain and simple.

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  38. 1. In the first 3 months of pregnancy, contrary to Mr. Esfandiar's statement, the fetus is not a sentient human being as the fetal brain is undeveloped. Thus, the fetus cannot feel pain.

    I reject the claim that sentience or the capacity to feel pain are a necessary qualification for the right to life. In my view the right to life should be presumed to apply for the full term of an individual's life, in other words, from conception to death.

    And yes, in case you ask, I am well aware of the futility of trying to pinpoint the exact moment of conception.

    My objection is not religious either since I am an atheist. I have no objection to birth control measures nor, given the lag between intercourse, fertilization and implantation, do I have a problem with the morning-after pill. But once the presence of an embryo has been detected, however early the stage of development, its right to life should be recognized.

    The fact that a tiny cluster of cells has none of the functions of an adult human being is irrelevant. Rights do not exist in the exercise thereof. You do not lose the right to free speech if you choose to say nothing. The right is more of a guarantee that whenever you do choose to say something no one will be entitled to prevent it. In effect, the right keeps your options open.

    The same should be true of the right to life. Without life there are no options. By presuming its right to life you are keeping open the unborn's options until it has reached the stage when it can choose for itself.

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  39. @Xzanron:

    Every single of your arguments id roundly defeated by considering authoritarian communist regimes of USSR and PRC. They both started with ridiculously high crime rates (homicides in Russia, drug problems in China) and, at the peak of commie power, had, by Western standards, zero crime. The reason: punishment was severe and very swift. No pussyfooting with death raw convicts for an average of 14 years. So, here is an EXPERIMENTAL FACT with N being some very large number:

    Killing murderers swiftly serves as an excellent deterrent and drastically reduces direct costs to the rest of the society.

    As for how this fact is relevant to the political regime we live with, here is the same link again:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/us/18deter.html?pagewanted=all

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  40. Ian H Spedding By presuming its right to life you are keeping open the unborn's options until it has reached the stage when it can choose for itself.

    By completely denying the rights of the mother of course.

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  41. When I read this post closely and saw "Most civilized, democratic countries have abolished capital punishment. This is especially true of those countries with a Christian tradition." I was somewhat surprised. This reads as though you think countries with Christian tradition ought to be better than others and as though this matters - perhaps you are being sarcastic and it doesn't come through. Western nations only began to eliminate capital and other types of punishment and torture when Chrisitanity's firm hold began to wane. Which is probably why capital punishment persists in the US; perhaps this is also why Canada is now becoming more "law and order" - we have a majority Conservative, and more Christian than the rest of us government, now.

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  42. @Anonymous

    Actually just one of my facts. Deterrent, and the USSR and China are rightly considered evil regimes with no respect for human rights or justice, c.f. cold war.

    Germany also had a very low crime rate during and leading up to world war two. Would you have suggested the US adopt the German system of that time?

    Creating a deterrent by indiscriminately killing anyone you suspect of a crime is not hard. The number of innocents you murder is also (given the swiftness) proportionately higher.

    If that's what you want then please move to a country that matches your nature, e.g. Iran, China etc.

    The studies you link to are not really relevant. The US has the highest per-capita murder rate in teh world. Oh.. and also the highest per capita execution rate.

    If executions for murder are truly a deterrent then the US should have the lowest murder rate. It doesn't.

    Also, even if were a deterrent effect, all my other arguments still stand.

    Also where is the deterrent effect for executing an innocent person? If judges, juries, prosecutors and the executioner would be put to death if they took part in the execution of a person later found innocent (i.e. murder) that might be enough for me to tolerate a death penalty.

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  43. @ Ian H Spedding: In time of war, for example... Police are permitted to use deadly force in extreme circumstances...

    Those aren’t the circumstances we’re talking about, though. We’re talking about instances in which a society has the time and resources to deal with an individual in a dispassionate manner, and chooses to abandon what is supposed to be its central principle. The examples you gave do not allow for that. They do, in fact, represent the difference between first degree murder and the defense of necessity. In those instances, people are being forced to kill. Society is not forced to kill someone it has already apprehended and stopped. It chooses to. Or, in the case of most Western nations, not to.

    And if human life is held to be sacred then, again, what is the appropriate response of society to what is arguably the worst offense one person can commit against another?

    Is it to make a mockery of that principle by abandoning it and making all of society no morally better than the murderer? I don’t think so, unless gross hypocrisy is to be deemed an “appropriate response”.

    If I am permitted to kill someone who is attempting to kill me why shouldn't society be able to apply the ultimate sanction against someone who has actually murdered another?

    This distinction, again, is easy to present. Let’s take your example. Suppose a policeman is being shot at by a bank robber, and he shoots back. Nobody dies. Weeks later, the policeman sees the robber. He walks up to him and coldly, dispassionately blows the man’s brains out. Is this justifiable on the basis that the robber at one time posed an active threat to the policeman’s life, or is it in fact determined by the circumstances relevant to the moment?

    This is the distinction between a crisis on the one hand, and what could be called judicial murder on the other.

    You can imagine, if only distantly, the fear and the pain of those terrible last hours and minutes.

    Can you imagine the fear and pain of people wrongly accused, who will die for the crimes of others, whose families must live with the undeserved shame, and whose death frees the real killer from accountability of any kind, covers his tracks, and lets him roam free? There have been far too many cases like this, but sadly, they usually only come to light in systems that don’t execute prisoners—people who are still alive to fight for their freedom and reputations. Where’s the impetus for any of that if the so-called “real” killer has been in the ground for years already? Human systems of justice are far too fallible to permit a result that brooks no error.

    But once the presence of an embryo has been detected, however early the stage of development, its right to life should be recognized.

    So you believe in the inherent humanity and thus, the right to life, of a collection of undifferentiated cells smaller in size and number than the brain of a housefly, regardless of circumstances... but not of a full term human being.

    I don’t deny that the DNA sequence counts for “human”. But I think there’s more to the designation “human being” than merely that.

    The fact that a tiny cluster of cells has none of the functions of an adult human being is irrelevant.

    That’s demonstrably not the case. If you ordered oak lumber to build your navy, am I justified in delivering a handful of acorns? Or would you insist that you’d been cheated on the basis there obviously is a distinction?

    Let me put a finer point on the distinction. Having just two hands with which to securely carry either one thing or the other to safety, would you save from a fire a tray of embryos that have no nerve cells to carry messages of pain nor brains to understand them and feel it and the terror it brings, or a full-term child with all those capacities? Which do you choose and on what basis?

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  44. @ Joseph Esfandiar Hannon Bozorgmehr Blood money is usually received if they decide to forgo their lawful right to retribution.

    Buy your way out of murder; a return to the Dark Ages. Yes, what an enviable principle for Westerners to aspire to. How could we have left this behind?

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  45. @Anonymous: Killing murderers swiftly serves as an excellent deterrent and drastically reduces direct costs to the rest of the society.

    Even if we were to allow your point without dispute, the point you're making begs a question you seem to be missing:

    What kind of society?

    Has it occurred to you that the very disposability of human life you’re praising is part-and-parcel with creating a society like the USSR or PRC in the first place, or that disavowing it creates societies like we have in the West...?

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  46. @Xzanron:
    The studies you link to are not really relevant. The US has the highest per-capita murder rate in teh world.

    An interesting way to wrap up the discussion. To make a mistake a four-cell embryo should not make. To state something so glaringly wrong, so ridiculously incorrect so as to announce to the rest of the world the utter hopelessness of any further productive discussion. Look, I am not going to waste any of my time discussing anything with a person who is capable of believing--even for a femtosecond--that the USA has the highest per-capita murder rate in the world.

    Your IQ must be in single digits range.

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  47. Has it occurred to you that the very disposability of human life you’re praising is part-and-parcel with creating a society like the USSR or PRC in the first place, or that disavowing it creates societies like we have in the West...?

    It has, of course. As a reasonable hypothesis. Unfortunately for your evasive argument, whether this hypothesis is true or false is 100% irrelevant to the issue at hands: "Can capital punishment be a deterrent?"

    The answer is loud and unambiguous YES. Now, if you would like to discuss the ways in which capital punishment can/should/may be implemented and numerous trade offs involved in the balancing various pluses and minuses then we can do that. But for this to be possible, you must first admit a very basic fact that a threat of death can be a deterrent.

    To prime further conversation: Consider two groups of people (societies, countries). In one, a small percent (with a value of N) is murdered by criminals and the same N percent of people gets murdered by government (reasons not important for now). In another, 5N is murdered by criminals and N/5 is murdered by government. Which of these groups of people is better off?

    Or we can approach it from the angle you seem to favor: "good" versus "bad" political regimes. Like, when a majority of population consistently supports death penalty for intentional murders, should political elites try to meet electorate's wishes?

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  48. @Anonymous "Can capital punishment be a deterrent?" The answer is loud and unambiguous YES.

    No, I’m sorry, but that’s only “unambiguous” if you’re ignorant. The country being praised here for its swift dispatch of murderers, China, has had a slightly HIGHER per capita homicide rate than Canada on average over the last ten years for which data is available, and a rate considerably higher than non-retentionist countries like France, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and most other Western countries, ahem, at greater distances from the United States.

    And again, the question needs to be asked: in which of these countries would you prefer to live? The callous attitude toward the disposability of human life in China extends far beyond the swiftness of what passes for justice. It inevitably colours the way the government deals with the populace in general.

    Which of these groups of people is better off?

    This is the argument of the excluded middle, of course. My answer is the people who live in the unmooted country where society works to address issues that lead to high homicide rates and thus lower them, and murders none of its citizens. Forgive me if I don’t automatically sign on to the false dichotomy of virtual anarchy on the one hand, versus the deification of the Second Amendment and execution races between Texas and Florida on the other--those aren’t the only options for aspiring to the Just Society.

    when a majority of population consistently supports death penalty for intentional murders, should political elites try to meet electorate's wishes?

    When a majority of the population consistently supports its right to own a minority of the population, should political elites secede from the Union and fire on Fort Sumter to try to meet the electorate’s wishes? Is simply being in the majority at any given time the real measure of moral rectitude, and expediency the only proper response?

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  49. @Anonymous Which of these groups of people is better off?

    The one that does not have you as a member ?

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  50. The argument that performing executions makes the executioner guilty of murder is absurd. By that reasoning, the state is guilty of kidnapping every time it puts someone away. Context matters.

    Sitting on the fence here, I see some validity of many of the anti-DP arguments, but nothing to counter a DP for repeated and independent feloneous offenses. This criteria would greatly reduce the problem of false conviction, and lend itself to the notion that at some point, a person is demonstrably beyond rehab.

    I'd further argue that references to the DP and its costs as it is practicted in the US, with its seemingly endless and inhumane appeals, is something of a red herring, because I've seen nothing to indicate that this is what DP proponents support. Its the equivalent of damning universal health care on the basis of Obamacare.

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  51. Anonymous said...
    It seems basic sense and justice to me that if you pre-meditate and murder someone, you in turn lose your life.


    The Death Penalty Paradox: If you support the death penalty and an innocent man is put to death, you have murdered that man. You have committed murder and by your own logic you should be put to death.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrongful_execution

    A recent example: Troy Davis

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  52. steve oberski said...

    Ian H Spedding By presuming its right to life you are keeping open the unborn's options until it has reached the stage when it can choose for itself.

    By completely denying the rights of the mother of course.


    Absolutely not. All rights should be respected equally. The problems arise where individual rights come into conflict.

    For most if not all pro-abortionists there is no conflict because they deny that the unborn has a right to life. And in many jurisdictions the law agrees.

    If the unborn is granted the right to life, however, there is immediately the potential for conflict with the mother's rights such as the right to decide what happens to her own body. In this case whichever way the decision goes involves a violation of rights. This comes down to the unenviable choice of the lesser of two evils, however that is measured.

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  53. The Death Penalty Paradox: If you support the death penalty and an innocent man is put to death, you have murdered that man. You have committed murder and by your own logic you should be put to death.

    Nonsense. All public policy leads to nonzero accidental deaths. A supporter of the death penalty is no more guilty of murder in such a case than is a person who supports air bags guilty of "murdering" small children accidentally killed by them.

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  54. @ScienceAvenger: By that reasoning, the state is guilty of kidnapping every time it puts someone away. Context matters.

    The corollary being that the comparison of murder and kidnapping is absurd. Detention is a reversible condition. Death is not.

    You're right. Context matters very much.

    I'd further argue that references to the DP and its costs as it is practicted in the US, with its seemingly endless and inhumane appeals, is something of a red herring, because I've seen nothing to indicate that this is what DP proponents support.

    No, you're right; most of them would be entirely fine with the person in question being led straight from the dock to the gallows. After all, we're still living in an age of lynchings within living memory. Again, the result is an irreversible process that demands surety and the elimination of any hint of error, prejudice, or expediency. No such system devised by human beings can meet that standard. On that basis alone, we ought to err on the side of caution and abolition.

    All public policy leads to nonzero accidental deaths.

    The key differentiating word here being "accidental". Even in law, it's the difference between murder and manslaughter.

    The use of the death penalty is in no way "accidental". And that is, in large part, the point. Again, as you say... context matters.

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  55. @Ian H Spedding: For most if not all pro-abortionists there is no conflict because they deny that the unborn has a right to life.

    For what it's worth, the god of the Bible would seem to agree. According to Exodus 21:22-24, causing a miscarriage incurs a fine, not the punishment for murder, which is death.

    Most jurisdictions allowing abortion that I'm aware of tend to put a limit somewhere around the end of the first trimester. While arbitrary, this seems based on a number of issues: it's long enough that the woman knows for certain she's pregnant; she has had by then many weeks to consider her personal and financial situation to determine if motherhood is a sensible or even viable option, and the fetus is not so far along in development that it is yet capable of living on its own or experiencing suffering in the event the abortion is undertaken.

    Abortion an unpleasant fact of life, but one nowhere near as unpleasant as the problems and limitations that forcing unwanted children on parents unwilling or unable to support them tends to place upon the individuals involved and the society in which they live. The real irony is that the very societies that are most likely to condemn or even criminalize abortion tend also to be the ones least likely to help with shouldering the fiscal and material responsibilities of helping raise the child once it's born, as well as the least likely to instruct young people in how to avoid pregnancy in the first place.

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  56. Re Ian Spedding

    Excuse me, in no way, shape, form, or regard is my comment on a 3 month old fetus not being sentient to be construed as an argument in favor of abortion. I was responding to a comment by Mr. Esfendier in which he made such an erroneous claim.

    My position on abortion is very simple. Being a male, it is none of my damn business. IMHO, this is an issue that should be decided by women who have to bear the burden of pregnancy. Men should stay out of it.

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  57. Courtesy of Barefoot Hiker, we have a list of crimes that carry the death penalty in the US. Amongst others:
    Murder that is willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated
    ..
    Assassinating the President or a member of his staff

    Strange to see the president mentioned separately.

    On the whole, the question of 'why the death penalty in the US?' boils down to one more example of the question: ' why is the US so deviant in the context of western societies?'
    Historical reasons? Conquest of their territory? Absence of social democrats?

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  58. BF Hiker said: The corollary being that the comparison of murder and kidnapping is absurd.

    It was not a comparison of murder and kidnapping. It was an illustration that the state enforcing a penalty of X is not the moral equivalent of a citizen doing X on his own. The state is not guilty of theft when it levies a fine, or kidnapping when it imprisons someone. Likewise, it is not guilty of murder when it executes someone.

    The use of the death penalty is in no way "accidental".

    With respect, you are being obtuse. The relevant portion of it under discussion here is - the death of innocents. Airbag laws cause the deaths of innocents. Jail sentences cause some innocent deaths. ALL government action does. Life is not perfect.

    Now if you want to claim that the rate of innocent deaths in DP cases is far higher than should be reasonably expected, I agree, and would like to see changes to public defender policies and procedures for handling evidence drastically improved, and that's just for starters. But the position that the death penalty is only acceptable if it results in zero innocent deaths is inconsistent with that used for every other government action, and frankly seems like a disingenuous argument intended to appear to give the DP a fair test when it is really designed to insure failure.

    It reminds me of creationists who claim they'll accept evolution if only their standard of evidence is met, and then we find that standard is one no other theory is held to, and is in fact impossible to pass.

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  59. @ScienceAvenger: Likewise, it is not guilty of murder when it executes someone.

    No one is making that point in the literal sense. The point is the moral bankruptcy of taking the core value of society and making a mockery of it. If "it can't be wrong if society does it" is what you're getting at, would you endorse slavery? The kidnapping, transportation, sale, ownership, and exploitation of human beings had legal sanction from stem to stern until quite recently. Wars have been fought to preserve it. And yet, the Western world has come to agree that the practice violates one of our central values. If a state doesn't have to right to sanction the kidnapping and exploitation of foreigners just because it can, the case can be made that it has even less right to take the life of a human being simply because it can.

    And, again, slavery is a reversible condition. Millions were freed from it in the United States. Execution allows for no such redress, or any that really matters.

    With respect, you are being obtuse.

    On the contrary! You are equating the death penalty, which is utterly arbitrary and deliberate, with accidental death. It's hard to imagine a more obtuse and, frankly, cavalier disregard for human life. The universe being what it is, accidents will happen, and we have the responsibility to see that we do whatever we can not to risk contributing to them. But executions do not just happen. They are as deliberate as the murders they're supposed to condemn -- indeed, arguably far more deliberate. Those of us on the abolitionist side are convinced society is obliged to be better than the worst of its members. Sinking to their level is hardly the way to demonstrate the point that killing to further one's own aims is morally objectionable and of utmost repugnance to society.

    Now if you want to claim that the rate of innocent deaths in DP cases is far higher than should be reasonably expected, I agree

    That's fine. But it's hardly the only objection. Even if you could guarantee that only those guilty of murder will ever be put to death, it is still a hypocritical act that tends to brutalize society and is all the more inexcusable given the alternatives available.

    It reminds me of creationists who claim they'll accept evolution if only their standard of evidence is met

    It reminds ME of creationists who assert they have an objective morality that is beyond reproach and infallible. You probably don't believe in that either, so why champion a cause that essentially requires that you do?

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  60. SLC said..

    My position on abortion is very simple. Being a male, it is none of my damn business. IMHO, this is an issue that should be decided by women who have to bear the burden of pregnancy. Men should stay out of it.

    If the unborn has no right life then you are right, although the father arguably has an interest here.

    If the unborn does have a right to life, however, then society has both an interest in seeing that right is respected and a duty to do so.

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  61. @Ian H Spedding: If the unborn does have a right to life, however, then society has both an interest in seeing that right is respected and a duty to do so.

    "If".

    A woman unquestionably does. Specifically, in Canada, "life, liberty, and security of the person". The exact same phrase is to be found in the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United States, among nearly all others, is a signatory.

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