Is It Ethical to Execute the Mentally Ill

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Is It Ethical To Execute A Person With A Mental Illness?

Toni King

COMM/ 310

March 20, 2012
Matthew Friedman
Is It Ethical To Execute A Person With A Mental Illness?

Imagine waking up and reading in your local paper. Two little girls were murdered by their father. On Jan. 20, 2006, Crespi killed Sam and Tess as they played hide-and-seek, stabbing each of them multiple times. While reading the article many of us begin to think how could a father do this to his own children? But did the father really kill his twins? It was later learned that the father suffered from a mental illness Bipolar Disorder which can lead to violent psychosis. So the question I pose to you today is one that has been widely debated for many years. Is it ethical to put to death a person with a mental illness. So what is mental illness? Mental illness can be described in a variety of ways. The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edit., 2000) describes it as: "Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma. Also called emotional illness, mental disease, mental disorder." Insanity or mental incompetency is a severe form of mental illness and is addressed separately by the legal system. Inmates who are insane, that is, so out of touch with reality that they do not know right from wrong and cannot understand their punishment or the purpose of it, are exempt from execution. The Supreme Court held in Ford v. Wainwright (477 U.S. 399 (1986)) that executing the insane is unconstitutional. However, if an inmate's mental competency has been restored, he or she can then be executed.  Inmates who are intellectually disabled (mentally retarded) also cannot be executed.  Inmates who are mentally ill, but not insane, have no such exemption. Being in the mental health field for...
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