Friday, November 9, 2012

The death penalty gives me the creeps

I try not to base my ethical beliefs on my visceral reactions alone.

I've known too many people who have based their racism, sexism, and homophobia on visceral reactions. Some people told me, years ago, they opposed interracial dating or, more recently, same-gender affection because, they said, it made them sick to their stomach.

Something making you sick to your stomach is not an ethical category.

Yet I must admit I have strong negative visceral reactions to two issues -- one is capital punishment and the other is euthanasia.

When I read about capital punishment or think about it too long, I get the creeps. 

It just feels very wrong for the state, who has absolute power over prisoners, to kill them in their powerlessness. The idea of being strapped to a table or a chair and being put to death, when you are totally helpless, upsets my soul. 

Yet I have known persons who lost loved ones to murder who felt that justice would remain unsatisfied until their loved one's murderer was executed.

I actually have a similar reaction to euthanasia. I once attended a memorial service of a clergy acquaintance. His wife made some remarks during the service. In the middle of her talk, I suddenly realized that, without coming out and saying it explicitly, what she was describing was an intentional decision he'd made to end his life. 

She said he bathed himself, put on his best suit, came downstairs, sat at the dining room table, said good-bye to his loved ones one-by-one. Then, she said,  he died. 

When I realized she was implying euthanasia, I had a very strong negative visceral reaction. When I remember that service, I still sometimes feel that way.  

I understand that some people may choose to end their life for reasons that seem justifiable to them. I still don't like it.

I am disappointed that California's Proposition 34 lost 52.7 percent to 47.3. It would have changed the sentences of everyone on death row in California to life in prison without parole instead.

If someone is in great pain and they want their life to end, this is tragic but perhaps understandable. I try to wrap my mind around it.

I suppose I can even at some level understand war, at least in theory.

But I can not wrap my mind around capital punishment. I am disappointed Californians didn't ban it when they had the chance.    

Our thanks to groups like this one and this one who work to abolish the death penalty. 


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