Human society and morality have continuously evolved through the ages. From the primitive death penalty dealt in the form of barbaric executions being commonplace in feudal systems of governance, we gradually began to attach a value to the average human life. The evolution of our morality saw us question capital punishment as we defined and refined the notion of the ‘right to life’ and disputed whether or not the State should have the power to take away one’s life.
There are many proponents of the death penalty, with a vast majority describing it as an excellent deterrent to violent crime in society. This idea may or may not hold true since criminals aren’t always cognizant enough of the world around them to weigh the pros and cons before committing a crime. In many cases, crimes are borne out of the frustration stemming from alienation in society and this frustration does not accord for rational behaviour. Violent criminals don’t always have the agency to understand the consequences of their actions and, thereby, to rethink them.
Personally, I oppose the death penalty, largely due to its purely retributive nature. I think the principles espoused by the criminal justice system aren’t based on retribution, but rather on rehabilitation. Our response to a crime must be to understand what drove someone to commit it, rather than to villainise and put them on death row. Fundamentally, for society to function effectively, we must buy humans at their best and give them the opportunity to redeem themselves.
Recently, a change in our morality was reflected by a gradual shift from barbaric executions to death by lethal injection. The idea was to make the process painless, but the principle behind it remains flawed. Michael Meltsner, a professor of Law at Northeastern University, further noticed that even pharmaceutical companies had started to reduce the production of lethal injections, owing to their desire to stop their drugs from being used as means to kill people. In Utah, firing squads were brought back to counter the reduced supply of lethal injections. This move appears to be a case of Utah swimming against the tide. Recently, an increasing number of countries are going ahead and banning capital punishment due to its immorality.
As we move towards a more inclusive world, it is imperative that we leave behind feudal practices that don’t fit our moral code. The responsibility of a State is not just to stop crime, no questions asked. Rather, the State must understand what drives people to commit these crimes and solve those issues first. The death penalty is a mechanism for the State to absolve itself of its responsibilities and in the 21st century, it has no place.