The consistency of pro-choice, anti death-penalty perspectives.

Reading an article in the Guardian on Rick Santorum’s frankly disgusting views on abortion, I came across the following comment:

A problem with pointing out the inconsistency of opposing right-to-abortion and supporting the death penalty is that the same accusation in reverse can be made to liberals.

Really? I don’t think so. While it may seem that if one is inconsistent the other must also be so, I would argue that the consistency of the pro-choice, anti-death penalty position (and the inconsistency of anti-choice pro-death penalty viewpoints) comes from the values generally emphasised in each.

The anti-choice argument generally runs something like this: The primary right is to life, and all human life is sacred. Embryos and fetuses constitute seperate human life, and are therefore entitled to the same protections as other humans. Because of this, terminating fetal and embryonic human life is equivalent to murdering a person and should not be permitted. I gather that being in favour of the death penalty has something to do with punishing people who do bad things to the fullest extent possible, although to be honest it’s a perspective I’ve never been able to wrap my head around.

As a person who’s as pro-choice as I’m against the death penalty, the main difference is in the principles I emphasise. I see the right to bodily integrity as the most basic there is, more important even than the right to life- which is why I’m also very much in favour of the right to a peaceful death at the time of one’s choosing. Basically, I see our bodies as the one thing over which we should have near-absolute sovereignty, with the only exception being where this threatens the sovereignty of others. Given this overarching principle, there is no contradiction in being pro-choice and anti-death penalty. My body is mine, yours is yours. We are the only people with the right to decide to begin lives in our bodies. And we are the only people with the right to end lives in our bodies- whether that be a fetus or ourselves.

The consistency of pro-choice, anti death-penalty perspectives.

America, the death penalty, and Troy Davis.

Oh, America. Why do you keep on doing this to me? I don’t want to be so fascinated and horrified by you. I, honestly, don’t want to spend much time at all thinking about you. We live in an American-centric world, whether we like it or not, and sometimes it feels like I know more about you than about my own home.

Then you do things like this. And all of my knowledge doesn’t add up to one goddamn bit of understanding. I’m only glad that so many of your people share this with me.

I woke up this morning to find that you’d killed someone. No- not anyone you’d killed in any of your wars. And not yet another person dying from lack of decent medical care, or another life cut short from needless poverty. This death was deliberate.

This killing was premeditated. This killing was cold. This killing was carried out despite an utter lack of credible evidence to explain it. This killing was carried out under orders. Professionally. Systematically. With signed letters and stamped forms.

I don’t know if Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail.

I don’t care if Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail.

Whether Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that you, America, are a country with no hesitation about killing. Killing your own, killing others. You have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past decade in retribution for the death of 2,977 of your own. Yesterday, you killed one of your own in retribution for the death of one.

Does it matter to you, America, who you kill? Does it matter if Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail, or do you just spill blood to cleanse the blood that was spilled?

Here is my problem with the death penalty: it assumes that retribution is just.

Retribution is not justice. Even if it is fair, it is not just. If we as a society decree that killing is reprehensible, the only way to show that we believe this is not to kill. We do not kill when we are angry. We do not kill when we are hurt. We kill only when absolutely necessary to defend ourselves.

This does not mean that we do not hurt or that we are never angry. It does not mean that we don’t grieve, or that our grief and pain do not make us crave retribution. It means that we have decided that killing is reprehensible, so we do not do it. It means that we have decided that a civilised society does not kill. It means that, as civilised people, we accept that we must in this regard restrain our very human urges to lash out at those who hurt us.

If we believe that killing is wrong, then we lead by example or not at all.

America, you have disappointed me.

Added: I’d barely gotten this posted before seeing Greg Laden’s post, How to be against the death penalty and keep the kids off the lawn at the same time. Which pretty much surmises my own opinions regarding capital punishment in far less words than this. Go read it!

America, the death penalty, and Troy Davis.