George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Point and Counterpoint: Abortion and Alternatives - Article 28, for Sunday, June 24, 2007

Capital Punishment – The Death Penalty 

To address this controversial topic, we must return to the beginning.  In the beginning”, God created Heaven and Earth and created Man in His own image and likeness, complete with human dignity and the great gift of free will.  Soon afterwards, Man used that free will to his detriment.  And then Cain murdered Abel.  Instead of destroying Cain, God banished him.  Cain, very worried, assumed that, as a result, “anyone may kill me at sight”.  “Not so”, the Lord said to him.  “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven-fold.  So the Lord put a mark on Cain”.  Later, when the Lord saw “how great was man’s wickedness on earth…” he decided to wipe out His creatures, but spared Noah and his flock in order to assure a new beginning.  We see in these actions God’s choice of a second chance for His creatures.  And we are reminded that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.  I shall repay.” 

But then, again, came man’s free will…and its consequences…including Hell.  Man’s laws including Mosaic Law, the Code of Hammurabi, Roman law, and laws throughout the Dark and Middle Ages prescribed the death penalty for an over-generous grouping of infractions, often preceded by torture and mutilation.  Roman law included deportation and also life imprisonment at hard labor under “Capital Punishment”.  Only beginning in the 18th century was the validity of Capital Punishment imposed by civilized societies questioned…up to and including the present time.  Most nations in Western civilization  have outlawed the death penalty.  In the world of Islam, the absence of a central unifying authority makes the situation chaotic.  It continues to be upheld by the laws of the United States, although its implementation is highly fragmented among the States. 

Current arguments against Capital Punishment fall into several categories.  The ethical / moral argument is made lucidly by the modern Catholic Church: the primacy of human dignity at all stages of life; the central role of forgiveness among Christians; the fact that the ultimate judgment is ultimately God’s…and God’s alone.  An individual and all of society have the right of self-defense, but using the least violent and still most  effective methods.  The utilitarian argument has been that the death penalty does not deter further violence – except that by the executed criminal.  (However, a series of academic studies reported over the last few years purport to prove that the death penalty does act as a deterrent to murder).  The argument over errors in convictions, resulting in the incarceration  -and  execution – of innocent persons is gaining strength daily with the increasing use of DNA science.  The argument over methods, consistent with the American constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment”, is based on practical experience…including the quite proper refusal of physicians to be involved in any way in its implementation. 

A fine summary of the position of the Catholic Church on this subject, offered in 2005 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and kindly provided by Father James is available upon request by contacting  Dr. Sprecace.  Regarding the authors of these monthly Point and Counterpoint  articles, Dr. Moore has long been opposed to Capital Punishment.  Dr. Sprecace has finally resolved his ambivalence and now embraces the same position. 

Peter Moore, PhD                                 George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.

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