Thursday, December 28, 2006

Abortion and the Death Penalty

I brought up a minor point in one post that it seems incongruous to believe in the death penalty and not abortion as both are essentially involving pro-death issues. Euthanasia for people should also be added to this discussion.

My point is that many people are anti-abortion and pro the death penalty, while others are pro-abortion and against the death penalty.

The anti-abortion and pro death penalty position certainly can have logic built into it. As an embryo or fetus is an innocent who has not done any wrong. The criminal has committed an act heinous enough to merit our society's death penalty. So I will grant that the pro-life and pro death penalty has some basis for its position.

The pro-abortion and anti-death penalty position seems to have no basis in reality and actually seems to be almost obscene. How can you be for killing unwanted unborn children, but not want to kill an adult who has committed a crime worthy of getting the death penalty. If the death penalty needs to be stricter to only include people who have been proven guilty by their own admission or other hard evidence then fine, but that position must admit that life has to begin at some point before birth. So how can a person logically argue for abortion and against the death penalty. It is okay to kill innocents, but not a guilty person?

My position on abortion has changed over the years and with genetic testing and such I can understand aborting certain births as the quality of life would be abhorrent. It is a difficult issue to really get your head around, but all in all I think people will choose abortion and we should make it legal to protect people from having back alley abortions. It is a fact that people will have abortions and making them illegal is more problematic then making it illegal. When it should be illegal to do so is a tough decision, but a line needs to be drawn.

I believe that the next great ethical dilemma we will face will be the idea of assisted suicide. We are willing to put our pets down when their quality of life is taken from them, but force humans to live no matter what their life is like. As an aging population puts an unwieldy financial burden on society I believe we will re-look this issue. It will be couched in different terms, but will be a decision driven by societal need as much as anything else. A society has limited resources and supporting people with no quality of life may become something we can't afford.


  1. Here's how you rationalize being pro choice and anti death penalty. It's all about the definition of a person. If you don't believe that a fetus is a person, then there's no one being killed. You'd be no more upset about it than the death of the insect that flew into the light or the cow that became your dinner. That, of course, is the core of the abortion argument. When does a person come into existence?

    On the other hand, there's no argument that once born, a fetus is a person. That's been the legal and moral standard for Western civilization for millenia. So, if you're opposed to killing another person, then you'd be opposed to the death penalty, regardless of what the person being executed did.

    This is where you get interesting splits in outlook. The Catholic church, for instance, holds that a person is created at conception. The Catholic church is against all killing of people. As such, it is opposed to both abortion and the death penalty.

    Many protestants in the US, particularly of the more conservative stripe, also believe that a person is created at conception, but they do not oppose all killing of people. They often support not only the death penalty for those deemed worthy of execution, but also wars to protect what they perceive to be their interests. Logically, this should mean that some abortions could be ok, if the fetus was somehow worthy of termination, such as the birth defect that causes extreme lack of quality of life, as you mentioned. However, on the whole, those who adhere to this view don't think so. They have an absolutist view of the value of a "person", at least right up until that person is born. (Even more contradictory is the tendency toward an absolutist view against euthanasia for those who want to die while supporting execution of those who don't. But that's another day.)

    There's a whole range of views involved with abortion and the death penalty alike. The public debate in the US tends to be dominated by extremists on either side but the majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle, favoring legal abortion with some restrictions and favoring the death penalty with protections in place to avoid errors. It's not a perfect world and, really, who would want it to be? Where's the fun in that?

  2. Argh - I tried to respond to Thomm's comment under the earlier death penalty thread, but blogger was doing something funky and I couldn't add a comment.

    Thomm is correct, the difference is whether or not you see the unborn child as a person. Personally, I do not believe that a human being is simply a lump of DNA until it takes its first breath, which is why I favor protecting the unborn.

    An interesting fact is that up until Christianity became mainstream, infanticide and abortion were normal among every culture, with the exception of the Jews and some Germanic tribes. Roman law even allowed the patriarch of the family to decide whether a child born into his family lived or died, and it commanded said patriarch to destroy any "deformed" infants.

    So the rights and personhood of children after they are born, which they are granted by Western civilization now, is thanks to the spread of Christianity.

    Mind you, I would be pleased just to see Roe vs Wade overturned and abortion laws placed back into the hands of the individual states. True, abortion would likely remain legal, but perhaps we would finally see some regulation for an industry which currently receives millions of tax-payer dollars with little to no accountability.