Friday, May 23, 2014

We can be better than the Death Penalty and Torture

The death penalty might be the worst thing, other than torture, ever devised by humanity. There are certainly some people who are so dangerous that our only recourse is to remove them from society in such a way as they can do no harm. Executing such people seems like the easiest and most efficient way to do this, but ease and efficiency come at the expense of our humanity.

When a person is executed, they are done. There is no more time for appeals, apologies, reformation or regret. Execution reduces a human being to rotting meat.

Torture is worse. When a person is tortured, their very sense of humanity and self is turned against them. When a person is tortured, they go on living, physically and/or psychologically damaged, forever altered by the experience. It can take years to heal.

Embracing torture or the death penalty diminishes our own humanity. We can be better than the people who commit the kinds of criminal acts we use torture and execute to curtail.

The drug cocktail that states use for the purpose of lethal injection is becoming unavailable. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to stop the killing, state governments still in thrall to the death penalty have searched for alternatives.

In Oklahoma a man was basically experimented on with new chemicals and tortured for 43 minutes before expiring from a heart attack.

In Tennessee they are reviving the electric chair.

In Wyoming they are considering firing squads.

In Missouri they are considering firing squads and poisonous gas.

Meanwhile, we mock governments in other countries that demand death by stoning.

Instead of searching for new ways to kill, perhaps it is time to stop the killing. We have the ability to lock away dangerous people forever, if need be. The idea that escaping criminals are a big danger in our society is Hollywood fiction. When a person goes to jail, they stay there until released.

When imprisoned, a person should not be subject to pain and discomfort. We have the ability to make these prisoners reasonably comfortable. There is nothing to be gained from torturing our prisoners through neglect, abuse or solitude.

We need to move away from a system of retribution to one of rehabilitation. This means putting aside our righteous and very human anger, and embracing our ability to forgive.

Forgiveness and rehabilitation are not easy. In fact, few things are more difficult, but few things are more human and humane.

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