“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi. For many centuries there have been several debates at various levels of society regarding the moral authority of the state to execute a member of that society under prescribed conditions. The ethical dilemma involved, seeks to unearth whether it is ever morally correct to deprive a human being of life. There are several aspect of capital punishment that has changed throughout history, including the popularity of the death penalty, the type of crimes punishable by death and the method of execution. Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for a particular crime/s—known as capital crimes. These capital crimes include murder, treason, rape and some types of fraudulent engagements. The death penalty when meted out according to law is not considered murder; in fact a murder is the intentional unauthorized taking of a human life – bearing in mind that only the state can grant any such approval . There are several methods of execution, including: decapitation, the gas chamber, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, the firing squad or other sorts of shooting. The death penalty was historically misused, meted out for minor crimes, and in cases used to suppress political dissent and religious minorities. Such misuse of the death penalty greatly declined in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and today it has been abolished in many countries, particularly in Europe and Latin America. According to Amnesty International (an international non-government organization which focuses on human rights) as at May 2012, one hundred and forty one countries have abolished the death penalty either in law or in practice.
In most countries where it is retained, it is reserved as a punishment for only the most serious crimes such as but limited to: premeditated murder, espionage, treason, and in some countries, drug trafficking. In some countries, however, use of the death penalty is still common. The question therefore; is capital punishment ethical? Ethics has been defined as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behaviour or the correctness of specified conduct. Ethical behaviour is based on written and unwritten codes of principles and values held in a society. The ethical debate over the death penalty has existed for thousands of years and will continue to exist. There are both utilitarian and deontological perspectives regarding capital punishment. The utilitarian perspective states that, “the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility.” Therefore, according to utilitarianism our duty is to do whatever will increase the amount of happiness in the world. In contrast to Utilitarianism, Deontological ethics places moral emphasis on the intentions of your actions, not the actual consequences. Utilitarianism and Deontology permit the death penalty to be a morally permissible punishment. They do this, however, according to very different reasoning. The philosophy of deontology presents the best evidence for the morality of capital punishment. This is because the theory still respects the humanity of the criminal. Capital punishment remains a belligerent issue, even in cases where it is limited to punishment for the most severe crimes. Some argue that it deters crime and prevents reoffending, and is an appropriate punishment for crime such as rape and murder. On the other hand others argue that it does not deter criminals more than life imprisonment, it violates human rights, and there is also the risk of executing persons wrongfully convicted, particularly minorities and the poor. Capital punishment is frequently justified by arguing that the execution of convicted murderers will deter would-be murderers from taking a similar path. There is however no empirical or scientific evidence to indicate that capital punishment deters crime and...
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