Is the death penalty a cultural universal?

….Was the question posed on the discussion forum at All about Death

As usual I can’t resist responding to the idiocy of some of the comments made on these things. Here was my reply.

“I believe that what is universal is the sense of outrage, anger, disgust and desire for vengeance that the majority of people feel when a tragic and terrible crime is committed. That is very, very human and unites us all. However the purpose of the law is to separate passion and emotion from punishment and to provide justice in both its negative AND positive connotation (punishment and grace). Removing someone securely from society for the crime they have committed does not mean killing them. 138 countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty or are ‘de facto’ abolitionist. Are they all wrong?

Consider this. A dead man cannot make amends or restitution. He does not bring the loved one back. If he wasn’t actually the culprit, and was framed or a victim of circumstance, then his life cannot be restored to him either. No matter how cruel or vindictive a crime may be, this does not give us the right to kill in return.

On the matter of murder victims’ families rights – just visit the websites of Journey of Hope or Murder Victims Families for Human Rights to learn why capital punishment is NOT the answer for people who have faced terrible loss. To the commenter above, I would also point out yet again that the law is there to provide justice – but it is not infallible. Mistakes are made, and in this day and age, we simply cannot allow a single innocent person to be sacrificed because our ugly lust for revenge demands satisfaction.

Finally – Americans in particular often restrict their consideration of this issue purely to their own system and their own shores – so I thank the question-setter for introducing he idea of ‘universalism’. Do we all agree that is universally acceptable to execute a man for disagreeing with his own government and holding a peaceful protest? Um, no. Do we universally believe that a female child of 9 or 10 should be stoned to death if her parents or relatives accuse her of overt sexuality? Perhaps not. How about gays? Should they be exterminated? And perhaps we should universally make executions more widespread and timed so that we can send out killing vans to harvest organs from the dead to sell on for profit? All of these things are happening TODAY in Iran, China, Nigeria and other countries. The USA’s capital punishment system is far from being part of anything universal. But it sure keeps some strange company.”

March 29, 2010 - Posted by | China, death penalty, Europe, human rights, innocence, Iran, justice, USA


  1. regardless of the possibilities of restitution etc, to me it is a fundamental truth that no government should ever have the right to interfere in the life/death of those whose rights that government is sworn to uphold.

    Any state founded on the concept of human rights (at whatever level) should not have the ability to abolish those rights indefinitely (as in death).

    In an economic crisis, no government should be able to reduce costs by making the economic decision that death penalties are cheaper than life imprisonment. No judge or jury should ever be in the position of having to decide a person’s life or death – humanity is flawed, and whether through “weakness or our own deliberate fault” is open to miscarriages of justice.

    Life is not ours to take away

    Comment by Matt | March 29, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: