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Controversy over capital punishment

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09

If you've picked up a newspaper at all in the past several decades, you've undoubtedly noticed the handful of controversial topics that refuse to leave the headlines.

Coincidentally, they all share the same common trait: an extreme division in the opinions of the American people surrounding these issues.

Things like gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research continue to stay in the public eye because we all chose sides based on religious or political affiliations. As everyone knows, this often stirs up heated debates which make excellent news. This time, the death penalty has found its way back to the front of many American minds.

Edward Jerome Harbison is currently facing execution for beating an elderly woman to death in 1982. Having exhausted all of his appeals, Harbison and his attorney argued that the state's lethal injection procedures are inadequate and violate his human rights.

Last May, the Tennessee Department of Corrections placed new standards on death penalty procedures. However, properly anesthetizing inmates before the injection is not yet required. According to U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, this could "result in a terrifying, [and] excruciating death." Trauger delayed Harbison's execution until the state adopts a valid form of execution.

Capital punishment has been used throughout the world for many years. Some may even argue that the Bible's account of Christ's crucifixion documents an early crime-based execution. The debate over whether the death penalty is morally justified has been around for as long as we've been a free-thinking people.

Some individuals and groups, such as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty feel that capital is prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Compiled by the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948, the declaration defines what many consider to be our natural human rights. The NCADP argues that capital punishment clearly deviates from many of its articles, stating such things as "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," as well as "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Those in favor of the death penalty argue that the same articles are blatantly ignored by those who chose to commit murder, rape, etc. and that their disregard warrants that they be punished to the same degree.

I have found myself back and forth on this matter for some time. On one hand, I can agree with the notion that every life has value, and that we as equal human beings are not justifiably capable of taking that life. My inner liberal screams that it is morally wrong to kill regardless of the circumstances.

On the other hand, I know that I am unable to place myself in the position of someone who's been wronged to the degree that some would say warrants that type of justice.

Is "an eye for an eye" too extreme? Is it our job to decide who gets to live and die, and more importantly, is something as severe even discernable through written laws? I cannot say, and I pray that I am never in the position where I would have to decide.

Many opt to approach the issue with a strict viewpoint of practicality, dismissing moral qualms altogether. Last year, one in every 133 people in the U.S. were in prison. The Department of Public Advocacy found that the average cost to keep an individual in jail for one day was $26.19. That adds up to $9,559.35 a year for one prisoner. As money-hungry as today's world is, it's no surprise that figures like that lead many taxpayers to support the death penalty over the "long-term housing" alternative.

So who's right? Those in favor of life at any cost, or those in favor of cutting the cost by whatever means necessary? The fact that I am on the fence in the matter could either be viewed as an example of my open-mindedness and ability to respect beliefs that are not my own, or as simple proof of my inability to firmly commit to any specific belief in regards to such serious subject matter.

What I do know is that this debate will not be finished anytime soon. While this leaves me plenty of time to think it over, in all honestly I'd rather not choose one particular side. That could only mean one of two things; I was put in a position where I felt that someone deserved to die (which terrifies me), or that I became so uptight over paying my share of taxes that I would rationalize someone's death as my way of saving a little money (which disgusts me).

Call me flimsy or spineless, but I favor weighing each scenario circumstantially and then deciding. There are worse things, I suppose. I could have no opinion at all. Apathy is the latest trend among young Americans, right? And we are just slaves to trends after all…

Andy Weier is a sophomore photo-

journalism major. He can be reached at

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