Last Tuesday, we had a presentation on the death penalty. It's a timely topic, because here in California, people are working to get the death penalty replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This proposed law will mostly likely be on the ballot in November.
What struck me as the most interesting part of the event was seeing the different reactions of the family members of murder victims. Some of them were staunch supporters of the death penalty; others work hard to eradicate it. I was interested to see such a wide range of different reactions and emotions about the death penalty, from people who are usually grouped together as "the same" in the philosophical tracts I've read.
Personally, I do not support the death penalty, and I will vote to get rid of it in November, if given the chance.
There are many problems with the death penalty. Killing is immoral. The death penalty costs too much money. It does not do an adequate enough job of deterring crimes. The system is imperfect, and the possibility of innocent people being condemned to die still exists; in fact, we know for certain that this has happened many times in the past. In California, there seems to be an element of racism in the use of the death penalty; latinos and blacks are killed at a much higher rate than whites.
Going back to the family members of murder victims, though, you sometimes hear the argument that the death penalty is good, because it brings peace to the family members of the victim. I don't think I can agree with that. The people from families where the killer received the death penalty were just as affected as the people from families where the killer got away. Yes, it should bring a sense of righteous satisfaction to learn that a killer has been brought to justice and appropriately punished, no matter what the punishment is. However, that doesn't replace the lost life. It might appease some people's sense of vengeance, but it doesn't take away the pain of losing a family member.
Of course, I'm Catholic, and the church teaches that all life is sacred, including the lives of killers, fetuses and disabled people. A lot of people are surprised to learn that the Catholic Church officially opposes the death penalty. I don't find that information surprising at all. The Catholic Church comes from Jesus, who was sentenced to the death penalty by the local government, even though he was innocent of any crimes. Also, for the past 2,000 years, there has always been a place, somewhere in the world, where Catholicism has been outlawed and punished with the death penalty.