In this essay I am going to write about an issue that I believe affects the sanctity of life and that is Capital Punishment. Capital punishment is the practice of executing someone as punishment for a specific crime after a proper legal trial. This issue can only be used by a state which means any groups or organisations that aren’t at government level can not practice this and it is murder if they do so. This form of punishment is most commonly carried out to people who commit serious offences such as murder however, in some countries this can be the consequence for offences such as fraud, adultery and rape as they consider these capital offences. Many people believe the taking of someone’s life as a result of crime is not right and that it is not ethical. Along with that, as many as 106 countries do not permit or use the death penalty as a form of consequence for offences.
Out of the 53 countries that still carry out the death penalty, China executes the largest amount of people per year. Back in 2008 the estimated amount of people that were executed due to capital punishment in China was 1718 in just one year. Many countries in the Middle East have corrupt government systems that are unjust and as a result of this, the country coming in at the second highest death rate due to capital punishment is Iran with an estimated 346 deaths and third being the USA with 111 deaths. There are many ways these executions can be carried out including hanging, shooting, lethal injection, electrocution, gas inhalation and even gruesome methods such as beheading, stoning and even crucifixion. Out of all the forms listed above, hanging is the most common method of execution out of the few I listed above. One of the major issues with the death penalty is that at one stage the executions were carried out in public mainly to be used as a deterrent for civilians. This is unethical as no human being should be exposed to it, most modern executions are done behind four walls without being exposed to the public for that reason however, in some countries they are still done in public. In the Middle East people are executed publicly still to this day, imagine the damage this has done to civilians including young children.
Catholic Church teachings on the issue
Capital punishment is an act of retribution and is not morally right. Murder is the most common offence that is punishable by the death penalty so why is it committed as a consequence? It is not right and is putting up the wrong image. Some people believe everyone has the right to live, God put us here on this earth so why should someone feel as if it is right to take them out of it?
In Sacred texts it is said that death is a suitable punishment for serious offences. However The Catechism of the Catholic Church states ‘in the light of the Gospel’ the death penalty is ‘an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’ and advocates for capital punishment to be abolished worldwide. Modern church figures like St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have showed their view on capital punishment and both vouch for it to be abolished. Their view on this justifies the following Papal Encyclical as it shows the Churches reaction to the issue and how they have responded to it. “Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature.” (cf. Mk 16:15).
The church says that there is no reason for the death penalty and that it is a violation to the sanctity of life. The death penalty doesn’t give the individuals the chance to repent on their sins or to reconcile with God which is why many Catholics are against it. The church permits capital punishment in some severe terrible cases, this is for the purpose of “defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
Romans 13:1-4, ‘Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.’
In the second verse we see the quote “He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God”. This is saying that by committing crime and opposing authority you are doing this against God. Later in the passage in the 4th verse we see the words “for it does not bear the sword for nothing” this is saying that if you do all that is right and do not commit crimes or offences you will not be faced with death. The power to punish has been delegated by god to those who rule which means the authorities have the power to implement a sort of punishment such as the death penalty if it is needed.
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Acts 25:10-11, ‘But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. 11 “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
In this passage we see themes of acceptance. Paul says if he did commit crimes worthy of death he will not refuse to die. However if he did not commit crimes punishable by death he should not be sentenced to such a punishment. Paul’s does not denounce capital punishment and he believes the state has the authority to execute people.
Islamic teachings on the issue
Many of the scriptures in the Quran portray a similar perspective on Capital Punishment. People within the Islamic faith who support the use of the death penalty think that it acts as an effective deterrent from crime and that it can promote justice. The name they give to the types of offences that are punishable by the death penalty is “asaad fi al-ardh,” in English this translates to ‘spreading mischief throughout the land.’ This type of crime covers many offences in one including: rape, adultery, treason, apostasy, piracy, sodomy and homosexual behavior.
We can see Islam’s view on the Death penalty in Sura 5, ayat 33 & 34 within the Quran as it states- “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and his Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter, except for those who return representing before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is forgiving and Merciful”
Islam believes that capital punishment is suitable as a result to those who commit crimes. The punishment may vary from different offences, stealing could get your arms and fingers chopped off. These consequences are in place to teach the person to never repeat the crime and they also act as a deterrent and example for others as they will see what would happen if they did the same. The punishments for more serious offences consist of crucifixion or beheading. Another common consequence seen is “stoning,” these types of punishments aren’t only done by the Islamic authorities as the local community is allowed to join in to throw stones at the offenders while they have no way of defending themselves, the result of this could either leave them critically injured or dead.
Many people believe that capital punishment is a burden on society and that it has more of a negative impact than a positive ones for countries. It is said that countries that have abolished the death penalty have lower crime rates than others that still have it in place. The crime rate in the United States is almost triple the amount of countries like France, Italy and Sweden, who all don’t use it as a form of punishment for crime. An issue with capital punishment is that anyone could be accused and innocents could be placed on death row. For example, in Chicago twelve African American men were beaten and were tortured by a former Lieutenant during interrogations. Eleven out of the twelve that were accused of this crime were placed on death row. They were mistreated and were forced to submit to what was asked of them, they were also forced to sign confessions. This is only one example that shows what can happen with this type of punishment in place.
As we can see from the teachings of both religions they have their own beliefs and thoughts on the issue and they are different yet still similar in a way. The catholic faith has modernised their perspective on the issue and are against capital punishment for the reasons listed above however in some of the Old Testament teachings we see their view was quite similar to Islam’s current view on the issue. To conclude, we can see from this essay that capital punishment is an unethical form of punishment and it affects the sanctity of life for the individuals faced with it and for the people exposed to it in countries where it is legal.