Should murderers and terrorists be executed?
The Armchair Philosophers Debate Capital Punishment 18th June 2013 The Royal Oak Chorlton Manchester
Britain abolished execution (by the preferred method of hanging) in 1965 largely in response to public sympathy for Ruth Ellis, a woman executed for what many considered a crime of passion.
About twenty-five philosophers gathered at the Royal Oak to discuss whether we should re-introduce execution, or if other countries such as the US, should be persuaded to abolish death by electric chair, lethal injection, gas chambers, etc.
In the Near East stoning, decapitation and other methods of execution are also still practiced.
While the majority of participants in our discussions, including myself, oppose capital punishment in all forms a few attendees were in favour of its re-introduction, though one lady in favour found her beliefs wavering by the close of the evening.
The case against Capital punishment ran strong, with many familiar arguments surfacing – many people have been executed on unverified, questionable evidence or unreliable proof. Many believe that even life-takers have a fundamental human right to life. There have been many high profile miscarriages of justice. The Birmingham Six would have been hanged if execution had still been on the statute books – they were subjected to long-term imprisonment before being finally recognised as innocent.
There is little evidence that the threat of execution served as a deterrent to serious crimes.
The case for re-introduction of capital punishment is often rooted in a lust for revenge, public anger, Biblical precedence, and a strong sense that setting an example of someone to be executed will serve as a deterrent to other potential serious offenders.
Questions we were advised to consider from Mary Crumpton’s excellent introduction to the topic, included simply asking if Capital punishment ethical? Does any government have a duty or obligation to execute its criminals? Is retribution appropriate in any circumstances? Do we ever have sufficient proof of guilt to be able to commit someone to termination of life/ Can we reintroduce capital punishment when miscarriages of justice still surface?
Then there is the question of doctors being involved in the execution itself. Surely a doctor is sworn to protect life by the Hippocratic Oath. In The UK a Doctor had to be on hand to pronounce an execution victim dead, and in a few cases, life was not extinguished on a first hanging attempt. In The US, where lethal injection is the method of dispatch, doctors regulate the poisons to be injected and actually conduct the execution itself too. Here, a human being is put down just as a sick cat or dog is disposed of by the vet.