The challenge for many in public life is to be considered and consistent in the application of first principles. Whilst individuals will adhere to different ethical frameworks, it can be rather awkward to apply them across a broad range of subject matters.
This was brought home to me yesterday when I was asked by a journalist what I thought about the two Australian drug smugglers who were facing the death penalty in Indonesia. I know the trail of death and destruction that drugs can bring to so many people and I have no time whatsoever for those that seek to profit from spreading such harm.
That said, I am fully subscribed to the culture of life philosophy and cannot endorse the death penalty.
As I remarked to the journalist, when I see some of the atrocities and barbaric acts that are committed by individuals, a part of me feels strongly that society would be better off if these people were no longer around. It would prevent long-term incarceration and may actually save others from becoming victims.
I also understand the arguments that it is only the taking of ‘innocent life’ that is wrong and in cases where guilt is absolutely clear there is no moral argument against it.
Respectfully, I disagree.
In my view, any formalisation of a state sanctioning killing of its own citizens is a circumstance where the state wields too much power over the individual. At the risk of inflaming the people who maintain the slippery slope doesn’t exist, what is considered unacceptable today may not always be so in the future.
In some parts of the world, it is only murder that is punishable by death, but who is to say the penalty won’t be extended to other crimes in the future. We should remind ourselves that in some countries adultery and blasphemy can be punishable by death.
That’s where my problem lies. If we accept the death penalty is appropriate under some circumstances, how can we then make judgement on the circumstances in which others accept it. We are placing our supposedly enlightened moral position above their ‘immoral’ one.
We are all human and so we all make mistakes. It is also part of our humanity that we forgive others that seek forgiveness. When things are personal, this can sometimes be an extremely difficult thing to do, but compassion and forgiveness are a vital part of our humanity. The death penalty takes a little bit of that away from us all.