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Legalizing Death Essay, Research Paper

“Legalizing Death”

Capital punishment has been and will remain one of the most controversial issues in United States history. It poses many questions concerning morality, religion, cost, and effectiveness. The death penalty is such a controversial issue because it can be extremely personal. United States citizens are paying taxes to house or execute the criminals that have killed their own family members and friends. It is also a personal issue because many people might feel differently about capital punishment is they were in a situation where a family member or a friend is killed.

The cost of capital punishment is of great controversy. Ernest van den Haag, author of “The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense”, argues that the cost of an execution should not be considered with such a serious issue rather justice should be served. “At any rate, the actual monetary costs are trumped by the importance of doing justice”(van den Haag 445). There is much evidence to prove that capital punishment is cheaper for taxpayers than paying for a criminal to live out his or her life in prison. The author of “Death is Different,” Hugo Adam Bedau, argues that in the long run capital punishment is more expensive for the taxpayers. “In practice the evidence shows that non-death-penalty trials and appeals are generally less protracted and therefore less expensive”(Bedau 450). The cost of capital punishment is personal issue because people work hard for their money and find it hard to part with it to pay for the death of a criminal. Although money poses a strong argument on both sides of capital punishment, financial cost is not the only expense to be considered.

E.J. Dionne Jr., author of “The Tucker Execution,” would argue that the highest cost of the death penalty is the people’s own morality. He believes the risk of feeling guilty and taking the responsibility of performing an execution is far more costly than any Dollar amount. He states, “And, most basically, whether we’re comfortable in our souls with the collective responsibility we assume when the state puts someone to death”(Dionne 441). Along with morality, Dionne speaks about religion and the strong opposition of the Christian religion to capital punishment. Bedau would argue Dionne’s views stating that morality should not even be an issue although it is often used as the strongest argument against capital punishment. He states, “Morally speaking, what are at stake are the reasons that can be brought forward to support or to criticize this punishment”(449). Although Bedau and Dionne might disagree, morality should be the only consideration of the death penalty. Dionne supports the Christian religion and the belief that killing is a sin but the famous proverb “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is taken directly from the Bible. Van den Haag would agree with this quote stating that although execution may seem brutal, the crime committed was equally as vicious. “By committing the crime, the criminal volunteered to assume the risk of receiving legal punishment that he could have avoided by not committing the crime”(van den Haag, 446). This punishment Van den Haag speaks of leads to another controversy over capital punishment. Is it effective by means of deterring other possible criminals from committing violent crimes?

Without actually being inside the thoughts of a criminal, it is hard to say whether or not the possibility of capital punishment would stop them from committing a crime. On an everyday basis, the risk of a consequence may restrain someone from doing an action, but Bedau believes that murder is such a prefabricated act that the risk of execution would not deter any criminals. In his essay Bedau states, “No one has ever offered any scientific evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, or more effective than the long-term imprisonment”(450). Van den Haag would agree with Bedau in that deterrence is not the strongest argument in favor of the death penalty, but he believes if even a few people reconsidered committing a crime in fear of the consequence, it is worth it. Van den Haag states, “Execution of those who have committed heinous murders may deter only one murder per year. If it does, it seems quite warranted”(447). Dionne also provides information about the legalization of capital punishment as a way of stopping the continuous rise in crime in the 1960’s. Although he does not support the death penalty Dionne states, “Advocating the death penalty was a loud and forceful way of saying: Enough”(442).

Because capital punishment is such a personal issue, changing someones opinion on this issue through a short essay would be very difficult. Dionne, van den Haag, and Bedau all provide significant information to inform the reader of their standpoint on capital punishment, and possibly convince the reader consider some of their arguments as valid. There is much evidence on both sides of the death penalty issue. Along with many other personal public controversies there will always be at least two strongly contradicting opinions. If people took the time to look into the arguments of their opposing side it may help resolve some of the conflict and come up with a solution to this debatable issue.


Work Cited

Bedau, Hugo Adam. “Death is Different.” Read, Reason, Write. Ed. Dorothy U. Seyler

Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 449-456.

Dionne, E.J. Jr. “The Tucker Execution.” Read, Reason, Write. Ed. Dorothy U. Seyler

Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 440-442.

Van den Haag, Ernest. “The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense.” Read, Reason, Write.

Ed. Dorothy U. Seyler. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 443-447.

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