Death Penalty Reevaluated

With all the political and economic issues going on around us these days, it can be very easy to miss the truly newsworthy stories that foreshadow important changes in what society considers humane and acceptable.
The issue regarding the death penalty, including the way it is used and whether it should be used at all, can potentially be a very divisive issue for Americans, and currently, for Californians.
A common fact used by anti-death penalty advocates is that the United States is the only Western industrialized nation to still use the death penalty.
And, in fact, the majority of the country is still adamantly in favor of capital punishment, although support for it has waned somewhat in recent decades.
The two most important arguments for the death penalty are likely the following: The mere existence of capital punishment deters potential murderers and that it is only fair for those who have taken a life, or lives, to experience the same fate they have forced on their victims.
In San Francisco, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel has now been asked to consider whether the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
The convicted killer in the case, Michael Morales, raped and beat a 17-year-old girl to death in 1981 and was sentenced to die by lethal injection in February.
However, the lethal injection was delayed after the prison was not able to provide two anesthesiologists, which was a requirement made by Fogel, to ensure that Morales would not suffer pain during the procedure.
The circumstances of this case raise some interesting observations about what society accepts as an acceptable killing.
Although the majority of the hundreds of millions of Americans support capital punishment, no anesthesiologists can be found who will participate in such a widely accepted form of punishment.
This stems from a common tendency to follow ideological blocks when deciding a controversial issue, rather than educating oneself and deciding based upon reason.
In the case of the death penalty, it seems difficult to really grasp the magnitude of ending a life until a person is confronted with the decision.
When we, as a society, collectively decide that capital punishment is acceptable and even desirable, I believe we are not truly thinking about the consequences of this decision.
It is a decision, for most of us, based on a distant, ideological belief.
What percentage of those who believe in the death penalty would actually carry out the procedure themselves, even with the courts’ emphatic approval?
I would think, and hope, that the percentage would be much smaller than the percentage of those who believe it is a proper form of punishment.
The reasons that would stop someone from personally carrying out a lethal injection should be the same reasoning against the death penalty as an acceptable form of punishment.
This is of course, in addition to the facts surrounding capital punishment. For example, many people are not aware that it costs more money to put a convict to death, due to all the appeals required, than to keep him or her alive for life. In addtion, there is no indication that the possibility of death as a punishment has deterred homicide or violent crimes.
And, on a more debatable point, it is likely that many would feel that life in prison is actually a worse punishment than death, although this is a personal opinion entirely.
However, the most convincing point that makes me hesitant to fully accept our current capital punishment system is that mistakes are made.
While I have faith in our judicial system in general, it is simply ignorant to think that every person convicted of murder is guilty or is deserving of death.
And, as the saying goes, I’d rather see 100 guilty people go free than see one innocent person put to death.
When we choose to vote in a block for either party, it results in important issues like this one to get swept under an ideological umbrella.

Maya Debbaneh is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at debbanem@uci.edu.