The Dignity of a Person and the Death Penalty

In the Cambridge dictionary, dignity is described as “the quality of a person that makes him or her deserving of respect, sometimes shown in behavior or appearance.” Interesting to note, dignity refers to human quality. Plants and animals are not included in the definition of dignity. Plants are referred to as beautiful and animals are considered to have good behavior due to their instincts and in some cases conditioning.

Human behavior is unique to all live creatures because only human beings have free will. Free will necessitates the need for laws and regulations to be enacted to control human actions when interacting with one another. Thus, there are laws in government and commandments in religion to promote dignity in the societies of humans,

Capital Punishment or the Death Penalty is one of the most serious laws enacted by governments. It is a legal penalty in the United States, it is currently used by 32 states, the federal government, and the military. There are two crimes that the courts allow to be tried for the death penalty. One is Aggravated First Degree Murder. The other is Treason.In Christian religion, there is a commandment that states, killing of humans is a grave sin. Until now the Catholic Catechism only inferred the correctness of Capital Punishment in the Catechism of the Catholic church. It states that the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.

Recently, this position has been under scrutiny by the Catholic Church. There has been much discussion opposing any need for the death penalty by Theologians and Clergy. There are mixed philosophies about the correctness of the Catechism’s position. Most lay people have opinions that vary. Some have said, biblical writings support it. Other opinions hold that the Bible portends mercy as the unmitigated solution. Beliefs cover the full spectrum. The debate is continuous about whether to allow Capital Punishment or to completely abolish it from our laws. No argument, up to now, has been made, one way or the other, to resolve the issue.

But now, Pope Francis is in the process to revise the Catechism of the church regarding the death penalty. This will decisively make the official position of the church about the death penalty inadmissible. The Pope’s announcement settles, once and for all, it’s teaching in this regard. Prior Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI had expressed the belief that the death penalty should be abolished. They both professed this belief but did not act to change the official position of the Catechism. Similarly, it has been the belief of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that there are no acceptable reasons to impose the death penalty. They write, “For the Church, there is no distinction between defending human life and promoting the dignity of the human person.”

Pope Francis is putting to rest, the difference between the long-standing rule of the Catechism (paragraph 2267) and the popular belief of the Church and numerous Catholics. He is not alone on this decision as you read here. He is not making a change to Catholic dogma. He has employed a full commission to bring about the details of the change. It will hopefully have a positive impact on his congregation and the world. Most importantly, it will bring together opposing positions about the death penalty into one reasoning.

There are reasons that help to resolve the pro’s and con’s when looking at the death penalty:
Some have postulated that it is a deterrent to a potential perpetrator of murder. However, statistics do not support this argument. Data provided by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) supports this conclusion.Another assertion is that if a convicted criminal is imprisoned for life, it will cost the taxpayers more money than if the criminal were executed. This appears to be a false belief. There is the long legal process of conviction for a heinous murder trial. Then comes the sentencing followed by years of appeals and stays of execution. It has been shown that the cost to the taxpayers is far greater than life in prison without parole. For example, the entire process from conviction to execution in California, takes about 25 years and costs over $300 million.

The decision by Pope France and Catholic Church to revise the Catechism to declare Capital Punishment (The Death Penalty) as inadmissible has created a lot of attention. The Church believes the death penalty is wrong because it violates the dignity of the human person. It affirms that it is the will of God that all humans, regardless of the crimes they commit, are afforded the human dignity of life.

Life can only be terminated by the will of God. This leaves the Catholic Church in opposition to the death penalty laws within 32 U.S. States. Indications are that even though state lawmakers favor the death penalty, the people who voted for them do not favor it. The bottom line is that there is a lot of evidence that the death penalty is morally wrong, Ineffective as a deterrent, a large cost burden to taxpayers and a violation of a human’s dignity regardless of how they are perceived.

Finally, it is the belief of this writer that life imprisonment, without parole, in solitary confinement would be the worst possible punishment in one’s life. But that’s a subject for another discussion.

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