The death penalty is a phenomenon whose legitimacy, efficiency, and morality still divide society. In the United States, since the Supreme Court reaffirmed that constitutionality of death penalty in 1977, it has been used in 1,480 cases, primarily through a lethal injection. Only the most heinous crimes, such as murder lead to such a radical court ruling. Over the decades to follow, the death penalty has found its opponents and proponents who use their own reasoning to defend their stances. This essay discusses the pros and cons of the death penalty and advocates for a life sentence as a viable alternative.
After researching the topic, I realized that the death penalty is not a black-and-white subject and has both pros and cons. The death penalty is often justified because supposedly, any other punitive measure would fall short of its power to execute the ultimate justice. Capital punishment for a heinous crime promotes belief in the superiority of the moral order. The justice aspect of the death penalty is also potentially consistent with the ethics of reciprocity, or the so-called Golden Rule (Weston, 2011).
In an “eye for an eye” manner, a murderer needs to be subject to the suffering that he or she caused and lose their life. Apart from the moral aspect, there is certain practicality in choosing the death penalty. Maintaining prisons requires vast resources while putting the convict to death does not, which unloads the system and saves taxpayers’ money.
No matter how convincing the previous points are, they have been countered by the opponents of the death penalty. The death penalty sets an example of a justified killing under certain circumstances. Approaching the issue from the perspective of Kantian ethics, the death penalty violates the categorical imperative that prescribes to only take those actions that a person would like to become a universal rule (Weston, 2011). Addressing the ethics of reciprocity, it is arguable whether a fast and often painless death is more retributive than life in prison where the convict would be one-on-one with their thoughts and conscience.
From the practical perspective, at the moment of execution, the death penalty is indeed cost-effective. However, such rulings are not made fast: they are often preceded by years of investigation, which requires a great deal of human and financial resources.
All points taken into account, I see life imprisonment as a viable alternative to the death penalty. Firstly, life sentence gives both the prosecution and defense enough time to continue the investigation and look for further pointers and evidence. On the contrary, capital punishment allows for executing innocent people without giving them a second chance to advocate for themselves. Secondly, in the case of life imprisonment, retributive justice is served: the victim’s family and friends will be forever aware that the person who took the victim’s life will suffer till the end of their days. Life sentence, especially if it is spent in solitary confinement, is a truly gruelling experience that is far harsher than the death penalty.
In summation, the death penalty is a complex issue addressing which has yet to provide simple solutions. I am divided in my opinion on the subject matter, as I see both the advantages and disadvantages of the approach. In defense of the death penalty, one may argue that it imposes the moral order and executes the ethics of reciprocity or an eye for an eye. On the other hand, capital punishment defeats its goal in showing that murder is morally wrong by murdering the convicts. Life imprisonment seems to be a more balanced alternative that makes sense both morally and economically.
Weston, A. (2011). A practical companion to ethics. OUP USA.