The recent Deseret News story on the use of the death penalty in Utah gives me some hope that, though the law remains on the books, Utah is truly moving away from vengeance as a legitimate goal in sentencing ("Is the death penalty dead in Utah," September 30).
In a modern society with the means to keep criminals incarcerated for life there are no longer compelling reasons to justify the death penalty. As Pope John Paul II stated in 1999, "the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done a great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."
Or in the words of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "the antidote to violence is love, not more violence." Capital punishment is of particular concern because it adopts the moral calculus of the killer, who regards killing as an acceptable, even as a necessary means to an end. Reliance on the death penalty diminishes us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. State-sanctioned murder still involves taking human life.
A culture ultimately defines its moral character by the value it places on life, particularly those lives that seem most burdensome, inconsequential or unworthy. If we truly believe we are all brothers and sisters, then we must recognize our brother or sister as clearly in the unrepentant inmate as we do in the law-abiding citizen. This doesn’t mean we condone the inmate’s actions; it does mean we protect his or her right to life, and potential for repentance and reform.
There are practical reasons to oppose the death penalty, as numerous studies attest. Even a cursory look at the Death Penalty Information Center’s website reveals that the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent, more costly to carry out than a life without parole sentence and still imposed in a manner akin to "being struck by lightning" (in the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart).
We cannot overcome crime by executing criminals. We cannot restore the lives of victims by ending the lives of their murderers. The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City encourages the state to use punishments that provide restitution for victims, security for society and the opportunity for rehabilitation to the convicted. Perhaps more importantly, we ask Utahns to remember that the death penalty is not a simple cost-benefit analysis, it is a calculated decision to take away a human life.
Jean Hill is a government liaison and a member of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
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