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March 15, 2007


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Joan A. Conway

The death penalty is an issue that I find quite difficult to make a decision upon, either to be for it, or against it.

This happens to me once in a while.

I rather hate to think about it.

Reality bits!


This is not a legal question; it is an ethical question. There are three parties here: defendant, the state, and defendant's counsel. The state's interest is to execute only those whose guilt is certain. The defendant's interest is created by his own volition. The defendant's counsel serves the defendant's volition. Any legal strategy -- including abandonment of appeals -- that is demonstrably made by a defendant of sound mind is the strategy that must be pursued. For counsel to foil the intentions of the defendant -- whether to save defendant's life or lose it -- is an abrogation of counsel's professional responsibility.

The only course of action I can approve of for such an attorney is to resign his charge.

There is an underlying assumption here that I challenge: that death is necessarily an undesirable outcome that must be resisted at every opportunity. We Americans have a problem with this; witness the various "pull the plug" cases, and the euthanasia law in Oregon. There are occasions, rare that they may be, in which the termination of life is the most rational means to pursue happiness. If one's future promises only negative happiness, then the pursuit of happiness would call for an early termination of life.

Joan A. Conway

Yes, I thought that way when I could not reach an understanding with a relative, who was set to destroy himself with alcohol. But I did not have the resources, nor the knowledge, nor the courage to be effective in saying, "I love you!" "I need you!" and "We don't want you to die!" Since I was isolated in my efforts. When family members are warring over trifling issues over the relative's estate, and their failure to stop the abuse, death is welcomed. But these people had shallow thought processes that are quite difficult to change with them having a material gain involved. Would I call them money grubbers? "Yes!" But way back then in the late 70's at 30 some odd years, I was also restricted from the lack of money, and not necessarily a money grubber. When single relatives have control over a large sume of money, everyone accuses a relative of being a gold digger, when they try to save the relative, and the relative's estate, without a companion, relative, spouse, or offspring involved in support of their action. This short sighted legal barrier to treating, caring, and intervening with such a diseased person are obstructed.


I disagree with eras. The state and defendant's counsel have an obligation to their client's - the "people" and the defendant, respectively - but they also have an obligation to the rule of law. I think it's important to distinguish between a defendant who faces death and one who faces imprisonment. A defendant who abandons appeals and "volunteers" for imprisonment, can always seek some recourse, whether through a habeas or ineffective assistance of counsel claim. A defendant who "volunteers" for death cannot do the same, for he will be dead. One can imagine a scenario where a defendant who, despite obvious problems with the government's case, depressed and mentally ill (not legally mentally ill, but still mentally ill) abandons appeals and "vounteers" for death as way of committing suicide.

Political Umpire

The issue rather reminds me of Douglas Adams' series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe the characters are presented with a bovine beast that has been bred to _want_ to be eaten. The horrified human Arthur Dent wants nothing to do with it, even when it is pointed out that it would be better than eating an animal that _doesn't_ want to be eaten.

Apologies for being so flippant. More relevantly, the issue reminds me of arguments concerning the time spent on death row. Usually it is considered inhumane to allow a person to languish on death row for years on end. On the one hand, it is the prisoner's choice to make all the appeals that cause much of the delays. Then again, a condemned man can hardly be blamed for taking advantage of every legal avenue available to him; the fault in those circumstances is that of the system which is so inefficient that the appeal process lasts for years.

Now I shall attempt to answer the question. Actually I won't. This is because I believe that the death penalty is simply immoral and unjust, period. Even in the case of a person who wants to be executed. It amounts to stooping to the murderer's level. A civilised society doesn't deal with people in an uncivilised way, however deserving they might be. A self-inflicted middle class drug addict or gambler isn't left to starve, however much he might have brought on his own problems. And a murderer isn't killed in turn just because he has broken the ultimate of society's taboos.

There is also the risk of hanging the wrong person, as has notoriously happened over the years.

I also think it is a cop-out. Some religious types think it is perfectly acceptable to kill themselves in certain circumstances. Far better to let them rot in jail.

Two more points. If the death penalty were an effective deterrent, then in countries where the death penalty was abolished the murder rate would rise dramatically. There is no evidence of that.

Secondly, from a pure economic point of view having prisoners on death row is in fact more expensive (extra security & facilities) than life imprisonment so it would make sense to keep them in "normal" prison.


John, your argument relies on a distinction between "legally mentally ill" and "actually mentally ill". I challenge that distinction. Yes, a person can be sad that his life has come to such a bad turn -- but that is not mental illness, that is a correct evaluation of the circumstances. I would argue the reverse: that anybody on death row facing, at the very least, a life sentence, and is happy should be regarded with more suspicion than one who is sad.

I repeat, it is a perfectly rational decision to conclude in such cases that termination of life will lead to greater net happiness. Socrates could have escaped Athens and lived on -- was he mentally ill to willingly accept death?

You have a better argument in your suggestion that the rule of law trumps the wishes of the defendant. The state has a legitimate interest in insuring that the death penalty is applied only in those cases in which the state is absolutely certain of the guilt of the defendant. It seems, however, a bit cruel to prolong the agony.


The death penalty is not a deterrent and only creates more victims. The perpetrator does have loved ones and it is never O.K. to kill someone’s loved one, is it? Punish them yes but kill them…no. These silent victims have the same pain as any other murder victims' loved ones. I also believe if a person finds satisfaction in the killing of another human being then that person is no different than the “monster” they long to kill (of course legally) with the death penalty. Suicide is against the law isn’t it? And using the state to commit suicide by volunteering to die is ridiculous in my opinion—our society usually obtains help for people who want to commit suicide. It seems we are a society of hypocrites. Laws that put a criminal on death row do not apply to them once they are incarcerated. For example, Arizona’s definition of helplessness:

Helplessness is, in Arizona’s own definition, A victim is helpless when he or she is disabled, mentally or physically, and unable to resist the murder. It also states the following: An otherwise able victim can be rendered helpless by tying or binding them, see State v. Sansing, 206 Ariz. 232, 237, 77 P.3d 30, 35.

When a death row inmate is strapped to a table for the act of being killed (legal or not), he/she is, by definition, being rendered helpless. This falls under the description of CRUEL. How can this be? I find these kinds of things incredibly petty and stupid.


Wanda, you ask, "Suicide is against the law, isn't it?" Not in Oregon, which passed an assisted suicide law some years ago and has now had plenty of experience with it. The results seem to be positive: only a few score people take advantage of the law each year, there's broad agreement that their cases were solid, and that nobody fell through the cracks. So if we can applaud the Oregon law as humane, why not apply the same kind of thinking to death row residents?

Joan A. Conway

You see the seriousness of this post cannot underscore our concerns over the abuse associated with it?

And Lord knows how many times it has been abused.

For those reasons, I am mostly against the death penalty!

But not entirely so!

And in criminal law, "it is beyond a reasonable doubt."

I have the reasonable doubt!


people have an inalienable right to control over their bodies.

a woman should be allowed to have an abortion right up to the point of viability and with a dr.s consent that it is for her health or safety thereafter.

anyone has the right to take their own life. they have that power and it is their choice. mentally ill people should be helped and i understand the grey area that naturally develops, but we can all imagine some situation in which we may be tempted to at least consider it. a painful wasting disease?

prisoners however have less rights. it could be plausibly argued that they lose their right to suicide during incarceration as they lose so many of their other rights. they are being punished.

on the other hand, perhaps the right to suicide is an inalienable right one retains even in prison like the right to adequate medical care ;)

in any case, the imposition of the death penalty is wrong. human justice is too imperfect to ever warrant the presumption that it can murder someone. nor can you make the case that killing is wrong or that you are pro-life, when you yourself are a killer.

Joan A. Conway

Personally, I am against abortion!

Lord knows how many women legal abortion has saved from back-street abortion butchers and coat hanger insertions by desparate adult women and teenage girls.

Can a man imagine their dilemma.

A meaningless objection, but non the less I object to be associated with being a 'killer,' posted by Garth under my post two hours later and on the same day.


sorry. i need to clarify. i was not equating the support of right to life with being a killer, i was equating supporting the death penalty as way to teach people that killing is wrong.

i would not accuse anyone in the pro-life movement of being a killer simply on the basis of that stated conviction, but proponents of the death penalty, i would.

Den Activist

One would hope that the law protects the defendant as much as it would protect someone that has not been sentenced to the death penalty but wishes to commit suicide or euthanasia.

It is obvious that a defendant that is depressed is not in the right frame of mind to determine or should be considered seriously in regards to having the state terminate his life.

We all know that one of the characteristics of depression is the desire to either terminate ones life or the desire to be dead.

I believe the proper procedure to follow is medicate him and see if while he is not depressed still wants to be executed. Similarly, a client that is delusional cannot be executed until s/he is in his right mind to understand that the reason s/he is being executed.

Why should we act any differently in this case?

Den Activist

Eras, you are right, capital punishment is NOT useful as general deterrent. Studies show that when an execution is carried out, there are MORE killings in the state than before the execution.

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