Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Pro-life Position and the Death Penalty

Why is there so little agreement among pro-lifers and those who oppose the death penalty?
My godson did an Eagle Scout project at the local prison in Missouri where he lives.  As part of the project he became acquainted with an inmate on death row.  The man had committed a heinous crime.  My godson’s father, interested in writing about the death penalty, developed a relationship with this man and visited him on a regular basis.
Eventually, the dreaded day approached and my godson and his family became increasingly distraught at the thought that this man, whom they knew, would be put to death.  We started praying that the sentence would be commuted to life in prison.
I posted a prayer request on Facebook asking for prayers that the sentence would be reduced to life imprisonment and that this man's life would be spared.  I did not think the post controversial since the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that while Church teaching does not exclude recourse to the death penalty if that is the only way to protect the public, it also says that non- lethal means are preferable and that cases where there is a necessity for the death penalty are very rare, if not nonexistent.
 2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
Many people joined me in prayer for this man’s life.  But there were also people who clearly objected, based on the gravity of his crime and the fact that the Church’s teaching on the death penalty is clearly nuanced.  Well, OK.  But does that mean we should not pray that a man’s life be spared, thus giving him more time for repentance, given that he was never going to leave prison and the public was in no danger from his ongoing incarceration?
I would argue that those who are pro-life ought to also oppose the death penalty and vice versa.  A human life is a human life.  One might consider the pro-life cause more worthy of action because of the horrendous number of deaths that have occurred from abortion.  Still, public safety, at least in the United States, does not require that prisoners be executed and therefore respect for life, in my mind, mandates a preference for mandatory life imprisonment over execution.
Some of my friends who are more politically left than I were pleased that as a pro-life citizen, I would also write in defense of the life of someone facing execution.  I found myself wondering why these two groups, those who oppose the death penalty and those who oppose legal abortion, are rarely seen working together.
Now, I know there are pro-lifers who will rightly point out that there are some cases where the death penalty is morally allowed and there are NO cases where abortion is allowed.  Abortion is always and unequivocally gravely immoral.  Fair enough. The Cathechism is very clear on the subject of abortion.
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
But should we not also oppose the death penalty in this country where a mandatory life sentence can certainly protect the safety of the public?  Is the life of someone who has committed a horrible crime not still a life that is sacred in the eyes of God?  I think most pro-lifers would say yes.  Even the life of a person convicted of a monstrous crime ought to be respected.  Is it inconsistent with the pro-life position to defend the unborn but not to oppose the execution of criminals?
Clearly, the two issues are not exactly the same.  Yes, they both involve respect for human life.  But the fifty-six million lives lost since Roe v Wade were entirely innocent lives.  Since 1976, 1,398 people have been executed.  I believe that those people should not have been executed and that that was wrong.  Wrong because life is sacred, and wrong because it is estimated that 1 in 7 people on death row are falsely accused!  But is it an "abmominable crime" in the same category as abortion?  I would say no. The sheer number of lives lost through abortion beg for a response. Fifty-six million!!!   This is a horrible injustice.  There is blood all over our land. The fact that these lives were utterly innocent human beings naturally evokes in people the desire for their protection.  
I would also say that those who oppose the death penalty but consider themselves “pro-choice” are holding a logically inconsistent position.  If it should be illegal to execute criminals why should it not be illegal to kill the innocent, defenseless human being in the mother’s womb?  
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