The Death Penalty is Pro-Life
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
by Selene Cerankosky
After a nearly 20-year lapse, Attorney General William Barr has prompted the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt an addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol. This will pave the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment for federal inmates convicted on capital murder charges. As one of the most longstanding hot-button issues in America, the death penalty’s recommencement has caught the attention of both pro- and anti-death penalty citizens. With federal executions reestablished, a handful of convicted killers will be put to death — among them are multiple spree killers and a murderous white supremacist. Whether you feel this serves justice or the miscarriage of it, we are long overdue to discuss the true concept behind the death penalty. This true concept, I would argue, is pro-life.
Life itself is a serious issue. Situations where it is saved, lost, or ended carry a weight heavier than anything else in the world. Because it is such a profound concept, ideas regarding life beg for consistency, meaning the policies a society operates on are expected to hold life to a priceless value — always. Which specific policies best uphold life to its utmost importance, however, is up for debate. The term “consistent” translates into a homogeneous set of results surrounding the maintenance of an ideal. In regards to life, we arrive at what is known as the “Consistent Life Ethic (CLE).” The CLE’s mission is to pursue a world where no policy which induces death or even inflicts violence upon human beings is tolerable. Falling under this category is abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, torture, and the like. According to Consistent Life Network, a CLE worldview is justified because:
“Fundamentally each and every human being is unique and important. No person is defined by someone else's choices. No one exists as a means to someone else's happiness, therefore all choices we make, as individuals and as a society, must be weighed in light of their impact on human life and dignity.”
I argue on the contrary: one ought to think of “consistency” not so much as a concept in which life is always the final result — but rather in which it is always held to a sacred value. This can remain true even when life is taken away to prove, in theory, the elimination of life is the elimination of something valued over anything else. Here lies the dilemma I see in the modern concept dubbed a “Consistent Life Ethic.” I am unapologetically anti-abortion: I center an overwhelming part of my life around the pro-life cause, and plan to dedicate much of my future to pursuing a day when abortion is abolished. Despite the fact that I value the life of the unborn to the fullest extent, I do not believe the same for those who have murdered others with premeditation and mens rea, or criminal intent. Some figures in the anti-abortion movement consider opposing the death penalty as a virtue mutually inclusive to the former view. I advocate for those of us with a more meticulous view. I hold the sanctity of innocent life unmatched, in that, taking life from murderers who irreparably tarnished life’s sanctity is not only morally justified, but also morally consistent.
There are inconsistencies in the CLE. Regarding the section of the mission statement which reads “no person is defined by someone else’s choices,” I wholeheartedly agree. I think this beautifully correlates to the anti-abortion perspective, as the humanity of an unborn child does not change depending upon the “choice” her mother makes to terminate. However, as for capital punishment, it has no application. Murderers are put to death due to their own choices. I concede there are implications when the choices that parents, authority figures, or peers make contribute to the killer’s eventual actions. Ultimately, however, convicted murderer’s fate is directly defined by his or her choice to take a life — more than anyone else’s.
“No one exists as a means to someone else’s happiness.” I agree. Just as much, the ending of an individual’s life ought not to be carried out for another’s satisfaction. Often, the argument against the death penalty assumes that “executing the killer will not bring the victim back to the family.” Just the same, “closure,” offered frequently in defense of capital punishment, has also been refuted as heavily fabricated. I concede this as truth, and it all the more brings me to a conclusion in which the death penalty is pro-life. This policy is not implemented to procure a supernatural resurrection of the victim or to bring about an arbitrary closure — all things which would “satisfy” the victim’s relatives. It is, rather, done to equalize. The death penalty grants the lost life its proper acknowledgement and worth. Its aim is not to make anyone happy. The deceased victim obviously possesses no ability to feel joy, and the family of said victim has empirically been determined not to garner this emotion, either. What is left? The simple yet righteous atonement for a life taken.
Contrary to what one may think of an aim of equalization in capital punishment, it does not serve anyone but the tangibility of fairness. The death penalty serves no personal purpose, and it does not serve the “greater good.” The utilitarian mindset of performing acts only in order to arrive at a “greater good” is morally starved. If this same logic was applied to the debate on abortion, the killing of the unborn may very well be accepted, as the elimination of potentially problematic children who pose as difficulties in the lives of born-individuals is for the greater good, no? The same moral laziness applies for the death penalty. Simply because the death penalty may not bring ease to the tragic situation does not mean our justice system ought to hold off on making the situation right.
The third significant idea presented in the CLE’s mission statement, “therefore all choices we make, as individuals and as a society, must be weighed in light of their impact on human life,” resonates with society’s choice to end the life of a murderer. The “impact on human life” the death penalty has is the end to life. Let us not neglect, though, the impact capital punishment has on the life it is exacted on behalf of. Justly taking a life which unjustly took another is only fair. Otherwise, the “impact” on human life if a murdered individual is not granted full justice is not a fair one — but a demeaning one.
The last word in the section of the CLE’s mission statement in question is “dignity.” I save this for last, and separate it from the rest of the sentence because dignity is a quality one can have without necessarily being alive — unlike “life. “Dignity,” per Merriam-Webster’s definition, is “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” A murderer lacks this, as there is no honor or esteem to be associated with one engaging in the action of robbing someone else of what they themselves — both at the time before and after the murder — enjoy: life. The concept of “being worthy” inherently features a qualification to earn, or at least be justly afforded with, the state of being which is in question. In this instance, those convicted of murder are afforded no dignity, as life will have it, because they have earned just the opposite. To reiterate, the death penalty equalizes more than it does anything else. The deceased victim’s dignity essentially demands atonement for it to truly be “honored, or esteemed.”
My overall thesis could be refuted rather quickly in terms of superficiality. How can something that results in death ever be “pro-life?” Well, any act which either directly or indirectly devalues the most sacred of all concepts will routinely violate a pro-life core. The death penalty does neither of these. It is not something to be looked upon with depraved enthusiasm; it is meant to justly even the score by granting life its full significance. To not impose the death penalty would be to live in a society that treats life as replaceable. When human hands take life without the right to take it, how else are we to reconcile except by taking those unrighteous hands?