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Against Death Penalty

By Dr. Lucas Restrepo
. 6 Comment(s)

Witnessing the sad spectacle of the GOP debates, a single question crossed my mind: what kind of sociopath cheers an executioner?

There is only one argument in favor of death penalty: despising life.

Conversely, there are many arguments against it:

1. Centuries of mass murder have taught us that the means must justify the ends (A. Camus). Any end that requires killing people is worthless and demonstrably fraudulent. Preventing crime by executing criminals is a contradiction.

2. Since law is created by men, it is prone to error. Consequently, innocent people were, are and will be executed where death penalty exists. Law is best when it is unemotional. Emotions cloud our senses, which is why we want revenge. It’s natural to hate criminals; we wish to exact justice with our own hands, jump on the suspect’s throat and satiate our anger. Law precisely exists because the personal bias of emotion can lead to error and abuse. The most explicit way to show hatred is to kill. The act of killing a prisoner -a subdued person- is the manifestation of bias, not reason. It is said that the difference between a killer and a murderer is that the latter lacks emotion (i.e., mercenaries are businessmen). There are no euphemisms, however, for executioners: sheep posing as wolves, following instructions mindlessly.

3. Government’s purpose is to protect the individual. A government ready to kill an individual is abusive, while a government unable to protect this same individual is negligent. If a society is regulated through rules, rules and rulers must set example. If law forbids killing, the government should be the first to comply with this rule. Moreover, a ruler unwilling to overturn a death penalty (whenever this is his prerogative) is no better than a criminal; and if he lacks pruritus in his conscience from executing somebody, he is inhuman, and therefore unfit to rule a human society.

4. 714 people in California are on death-row, at annual costs of $144 million. If current rates of conviction and execution remain constant, $9 billion will be spent to execute 23 inmates by 2030. Texas, of course, is more efficient and cheaper.

5. Most sacred texts explicitly prohibit killing. But as often happens with this literary tradition, the commandment loses power after each page is turned. However, the Judeo-Christian myth of man creation in god’s image doesn’t mean “I’m god-like,” but that I must recognize god in others. If life’s essence is divine, killing is a rebellion against god.

6. Biologically, it’s clear that each individual is unique and irreplaceable. The nucleotide sequence of an individual’s genome is unique and can be used to identify him.  This code has evolved over millions of years, and contains not only the Logos of our species, but remnants of a diverse animal ancestry. Identical twins are physically and psychologically different because of highly variable epigenetic events (biochemical modifications of chromosomes), the combination of which is unique. Genes must be transcribed and spliced in alternative ways. The study of this variability is called “data mining,” which semantically expresses the wonder of mineworkers digging for precious ore. Gene products are post-translationally modified in rich, diverse ways. The furrows of the iris and the fingerprint of an individual are unique and are used to identify individuals. When one lets plasma from a person to react with a protein microarray, the pattern of antibody binding is unique, distinctive of each person. It is estimated that the average human forebrain has 22 billion neurons and about 150 trillion cortical synapses.  The dendrites that connect neurons are constantly pruned and modified by an army of microglia, the devoted gardeners of the brain; the combination and characteristics of these connections and their neurophysiological contents are unique, irreplaceable, irreproducible, monumental and magnificent. Killing the most wretched person causes the loss of a universe.


7. Humanistic argument: In the mural above, Mexican painter Diego Rivera depicted the common man, a worker, at the center of the universe. Feet, inches: our anatomy is the measure of the world. But deviations from the norm remind us of what we are. That’s why we are cerebrally and emotionally intertwined with criminal anti-heroes like Raskolnikoff and Ivan Karamazov. The power of art is: to love the unlovable. It is effortless to hate, hard to love. Art argues for man (male, female), regardless of his moral fortitude, intellect or physical beauty. Jean Cocteau, in Round the World Again in 80 hours, writes about an awestricken man watching mountains from an airplane. But he doesn’t praise the earth’s beauty or some god’s craftsmanship; instead, he exclaims: “man is magnificent!”, because a wingless creature has the ingenuity to build a flying machine. Prometheus was punished by Jove, but while Jove is unnecessary, Prometheus is fundamental -and multiplied in Galileo, Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur, and Cushing. Even a man who caused many deaths like von Braun made it possible for Neil Armstrong to take a certain small step. And because of being a man, I can take full credit for the moonwalk.

In America, individualism has become synonymous with selfishness. This is semantically false. I'm an individualist (a lover of the individual), but feel disgust for selfishness. Saving the life of a homeless person who never cared about anyone – even himself – is the purpose of the life of good men and women. 

The point is: at the center of your personal ethics and life must seat a reverential respect for the individual. Contempt for individualism, in its most extreme forms, is expressed by: (1) ignoring a sick person because of not having a document or money, and (2) killing someone.

Share Your Comments



    It is baffling that those who call themselves "pro life" would cheer an executioner. I refuse to let anyone co opt the conversation, though, and I would say they prove themselves to be anti life.
  2. Lisha Barre

    I want to echo your point, "It is effortless to hate, hard to love". The decision to execute is never compelled by reason, wisdom, compassion, fiscal responsibility, moral understanding or any higher argument. It is always a capitulation to revenge and anger--the lowest of human emotions.

    I look forward to our emerging America, where the conversation is not dominated by "Christians" who cheer executions and death for the uninsured sick, who willfully distort end of life care into "death panels", bash gays, dismiss the poor and unemployed as moochers, and characterize non-white as "anchor baby" bearers, terrorists and all sorts of unworthy things. Who would Jesus execute?
  3. Linda Burke-Galloway, MD

    Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies about executions is that it involves the medical profession and there is usually a physician who has some direct or indirect involvement. Executions could not occur without the cooperation of our profession. "First Do No Harm." How quickly we forget.
  4. Lucas Restrepo

    The day that doctors and nurses refuse to collaborate with executions, death penalty will become hard to carry out. It is already difficult to get pentothal for executions. A professional boycott to executions is feasible and ethically/biologically justified.
  5. Ana Restrepo

    I agree with Linda: what a tragedy... having doctors involved in executions.
  6. Daniel Rush

    Of course God is left totally out of this so why should anyone trust anything this article says? Sin filled humans excuse homosexuality and other perversions so only they would excuse keeping violent criminals fed and clothed by the taxation of their victims.

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