Capital Punishment: Sometimes or Never?
by nboyer on September 18, 2014 - 10:17pm
Ethics Short Paper – Capital Punishment
In the article from October 2002, “Florida Execution of Aileen Wuornos: Another Morbid Media Spectacle”, by Kate Randall, the matter of capital punishment is covered in great detail. This article reports the case of Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute from Florida, who was executed in 2002 after confessing to murdering seven men. She was reported to have killed these men while hitchhiking during 1989 and 1990. Randall describes the scandal that arose in reaction to this female killer, who was one of the few women to have received the death penalty since its reinstatement in the court of law. The author further describes the factors that might have lead Wuornos to commit these crimes, such as a possible psychological disorder and violent childhood. As this case was quite popular in the media, people all throughout the United States had a chance to ponder over the troubling question: was the execution of Aileen Wuornos immoral? In order to answer this question, however, it must be determined whether or not capital punishment itself is immoral.
According to the principle Kate Randall holds in her article, capital punishment is immoral under certain circumstances. She seems to imply that in Wuornos’ case, for instance, there were many factors that played a role in her violent actions. Wuornos’ past of sexual abuse may have lead her into a state of delusion. In fact, a group called Florida Support described her as “borderline psychotic”. Even if she had been completely sane, Randall seems to suggest that it still would not be moral to execute someone who has dealt with that level of trauma and abuse. In comparison, I also believe that capital punishment is immoral, though in my opinion, it is immoral to use capital punishment no matter the circumstances. Indeed, according to my position, the death penalty is immoral because it is morally wrong to murder humans for punishment. First of all, killing as a form of punishment is hateful and has a negative effect on society. In the article “Instruments of Death” by Tobias Winright, sociologist Kim Philip Hansen states that the death penalty numbs people to the brutality of the act of murder itself. She explains that it has a “coarsening” effect on society. Second of all, capital punishment has a negative effect on the executioner. Winright points out that those who participate in executions experience a form of “moral injury” which is similar to what soldiers experience during war. As this act negatively impacts the offender, the executioner and the society as a whole, it cannot be deemed moral.
On the contrary, some people believe that the death penalty is not really a form of punishment, but rather a way to protect the society. This belief is somewhat contradictory because, as mentioned previously, the death penalty in the United States sends a cruel message to society because it shows acceptance of horrific acts such as killing. Although eliminating an offender is a perfect guarantee of safety, it cannot be viewed as protection when it goes against the common good of society and the dignity of human beings. Taking the lives of criminals is irreversible, whereas sentencing them to a lifetime in jail shows respect for both the protection of human life and the safety of the society.
In brief, capital punishment is unethical because it involves the retribution of people through murder. As a result, the execution of Aileen Wuornos was immoral. Despite the fact that she committed terrible crimes and had no evident remorse, it remains inhumane for any human to be subject to this form of cruelty.
Randall, Kate. “Florida Execution of Aileen Wuornos: Another Morbid Media Spectacle.” World Socialist Web Site. 11 Oct. 2002. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2002/10/exec-o11.html>.
Winright, Tobias. "Instruments of Death." Christian Century. 131.18 (2014): 4. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.