Merriam-Webster online dictionary (2011) defines capital punishment as punishment by death for a crime. There are many factors that go into the process of capital punishment and it must start with a crime followed by an arrest, trial, conviction, appeals process and ultimately the execution of the individual. Through the many stages of the process there numerous individuals who are affected, including the criminal and their family, the victim and their family, jury, judge, witnesses and administrators or physicians who perform the execution. In this paper I will look at the ethical issues of capital punishment using the following ethical theories: utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and the rights and justice theory. In each of these theories I will examine how advocates and opponents to capital punishment can use the theories to validate their position on capital punishment. I will conclude my paper with my position on capital punishment using one of the theories I listed above.
According to Boatright (2012) the principle of utilitarianism is the basic premise of pleasure over pain. Utilitarianism considers the impact an event and outcome will have on everyone and they use the fifty-percent theory as the tipping point in decision making. If the pleasure of an event has more benefit than the pain then a decision can be made. Utilitarianism only considers the benefits and consequences when taking into account whether the death penalty is ethical and disregards the natural rights or self-worth of a person when deciding if the death penalty is ethical (Bedau, 1980). The pleasure over pain principle in capital punishment must consider the impact it will have on everyone involved and according to Boatright (2012), “Utilitarianism requires that we calculate utility not only for ourselves but for all person affected by an action.” When deciding whether or not capital punishment is just an individual must look at the benefits and consequences of everyone involved and determine if capital punishment is ethical. I do not think that one person can make this decision as it would require them to think on behalf of individuals or groups who they may have a conflicting interest with. An example of this would be a sibling of a murder victim deciding if the offender should receive the death penalty. Their feelings on the issue would differ from the offender’s family and create a conflict of interest when using the fifty-one percent theory.
I will now examine the utilitarian principle of consequentialism and how it relates to the ethical issue of capital punishment. A consequentialist argument uses deterrence as a benefit of how the death penalty can promote their stance (Douglas and Wilkinson, 2008) and executing a murderer would serve as a possible consequence for the killing of another human being. This may serve as a deterrent to future killings but that is not always the case. Out of 238 paroled offenders who committed murder, less than 1% went back to prison for committing another murder (White paper on, 2012). This statistic shows that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to future killings and thus the theory of capital punishment serving as a deterrent holds no merit.
Examining the ethical issue of capital punishment must also look at a cost-benefit analysis that uses a monetary value rather than the classic utilitarianism principle of pleasure over pain (Boatright, 2012). According to Boatright (2012) an application of a cost-benefit analysis needs to place a value on human life. The issue with using a cost-benefit analysis of capital punishment is that not everyone may value human life the same. A person who commits a murder may not value human life the same as someone who does not kill. The family of a victim may find that the life of the killer has no value to them and in contrast the family of a murderer may value the life of the offender as more valuable to them. The cost of...
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