Bioethics Discussion Blog: Pro-Life and Favoring the Death Penalty: An Ethical Conflict?

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Pro-Life and Favoring the Death Penalty: An Ethical Conflict?

Here is an apparent ethical conflicting view that I have heard. How can a person be "pro-life" and still be in favor of the death penalty? Is the answer simply that "pro-life" means in favor of the life an innocent embryo or fetus and not necessarily for the maintaining of all life, including criminals who are to be executed nor the killing of enemy soldiers or innocent civilians during times of war? If being "pro-life" means something more than protecting the fetus, is that being clearly expressed to society? Or if not, should those who claim to be "pro-life" define their objectives. Or have they and I have missed it. Physicians are involved in this distinction as they are personally and professionally challenged by various people including patients and authorities with issues such abortion, contraception, invitro fertilization, termination of life-supportive measures, participating in death penalty activities and in war and torture. Those of my visitors who consider themselves "pro-life" can you define the extent to which you support the preservation of life. Should the preservation of life only be extended to the embryo and fetus, to the ill or patients in the persistent vegetative state? Is the death penalty, war and torture another matter? ..Maurice.

24 Comments:

At Tuesday, August 07, 2007 7:31:00 AM, Blogger MY OWN WOMAN said...

Dr. Bernstein, this is one of those issues that have always made me go hmmmmmmmmmmm.

Holding up a sign with my right hand that says "Stop the slaying of the unborn," while holding up a sign in my left hand that says "Kill the murderer," and calling yourself pro-life has always confused me.

But alas, you asked for comments from pro-lifers. I love life, but I'm guess I don't fit into the pro-life category. Maybe we should just kill them all and let God sort them out. (said tongue in cheek)

 
At Tuesday, August 07, 2007 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - Whether there is actually an "ethical conflict" here depends on how the various slogans get articulated. Although I am personally against executing criminals, I do understand that the difference between guilt and innocence could be viewed as a morally relevant "nuance."

 
At Wednesday, August 08, 2007 8:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You got me there... I am pro-life but have also supported capital punishment... now I need to sit back and really think about what I am and why.

 
At Friday, August 10, 2007 6:37:00 PM, Blogger LifeEthics.org said...

The idea is that punishment (or deterrence, as some believe) by society is different from taking an innocent life for the purpose of another human being. The Judeo-Christian tradition takes the basis from the Noachic law.

My opinion is that the law should only be invoked if the killer is a continuing danger to others. (The jailbreak in Kenedy, Texas a few years ago was a hit to my stance.

This is one of those topics that can split a pro-life meeting.

 
At Friday, August 10, 2007 7:14:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

LifeEthics.org, since I have never attended a pro-life meeting, do you know if the conflict I brought up in this thread is often discussed? And what are the other conflicting ideologies of the pro-life groups that are also discussed? ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, August 13, 2007 7:56:00 PM, Blogger Abraham said...

It's certainly a question although as stated above, being in favor of the right to be born does not automatically mean that there's nothing a person could do to deserve death.

Personally, I've always felt the really interesting question is the converese, how one could be pro-choice but anti-captial punishement.

 
At Monday, August 13, 2007 9:09:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Abraham, with regard to your last question, I think it all has to do with the concept of personhood and the termination of the personhood of that human. Pro-choice folks find no personhood in a fetus before the birth of the child. In contrast, the criminal who is to be executed has had a life and has personhood. I would think that might be a possible explanation to the apparent conflicting views. On the other hand, such a pro-choicer might simply believe that there is no societal benefit to execute a criminal in terms of reducing the incidence of homocide or rape. ..Maurice.

 
At Tuesday, October 02, 2007 7:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzy said...

It's pretty simple. My interpretation is that the pro-life position favors protecting the right to arrive safely on the planet. The being in question has not done anything to earn death.

Naturally, the next question becomes "well, what about the mother and her life?". The answer here is also simple...nobody ever guaranteed a right to convenience. It is very inconvenient to be pregnant. However, it is not fatal. A mother, no matter how compromised, will very likely survive pregnancy, whereas a fetus never survives abortion.

The death penalty, OTOH, is something that is earned by the recipient, a consequence for their behavior. I have never met a pro-lifer who believed that anyone should be excuted simply because their mother chose not to care for them.

 
At Friday, November 30, 2007 9:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being pro life can mean different things, pro life preserving your own, having executions can be considered pro life because it's saving at least 8 others.

 
At Thursday, January 03, 2008 4:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a "Pro-life" Republican I have decided that "pro-life" really only means "pro" an unborn zygote/fetus's opportunity to be born. Once born that "right-to-life" no longer applies. Criminal acts (i.e. murder) or association with criminals (i.e. parents in Al Queda) make it morally acceptable to kill a human being.

 
At Thursday, January 03, 2008 4:47:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

The expression "right to life" seems to be used either broadly or narrowly, however it is my question as to whether once a person is born as Anonymous from today states the "right to life no longer applies." If it is morally acceptable to kill a murderer then was it therefore acceptable for the murderer to kill the victim since the victim's "right to life no longer applies"? I am confused about this general application of denial of "right to life". ..Maurice.

 
At Thursday, January 03, 2008 5:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone who is "pro-life" is against the death penalty and a pacifist and possibly anti-abortion (although many people -including doctors and scientists- believe that life begins at birth). The first two are clearly taking a life but whether abortion is murder can never be settled.

Also, there is no such thing as "pro-abortion". I consider myself pro-choice and pro-life. I don't believe that abortion is murder and I believe that a fetus deserves a chance to be born. What I don't believe is that the government has any role in making this decision. Just like I don't believe that the government has any role in deciding if someone deserves to be executed. If a jury of peers decide to kill someone that is their decision and if a woman decides to have an abortion that is her decision. I find is sadly amusing that neo-cons and "family values" charlatans often brag about the amount of criminals they have executed. As a one-term governor of Texas George W Bush signed off on more executions than any other governor in history. As far as I'm concerned that evangelical "family values" neo-con has personally killed more people than I have (none) or ever will.

 
At Thursday, January 03, 2008 5:36:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

To maintain continuity of this thread, I request those posting to this thread as "Anonymous", at least identify themselves at the end of the post with a pseudonym name or some initials consistently. I presume, from the distinctly differing views, the two Anonymous from today are different folks. Thanks. ..Maurice.

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 10:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I myself am pro-life. Not like those who claim to be it. Im against abortion, the death penalty, and violence in any, including war, realistic setting. Violence in movies and video games are fine with me as long as it has nothing to reality.

 
At Thursday, July 03, 2008 9:04:00 AM, OpenID lakotabunnygrl said...

I was just having this discussion on another board. I am pro-choice. I cant help but wonder why the human race tends to impose their own beliefs on one another. The government should not be aloud to murder anyone under law if abortion should not be in existence. You cannot be pro-life and say you agree with the death penalty, it is a contraindication within itself. I personally feel that abortions should ONLY be legally used for medical reasons. Abusing the procedure can cause more harm to a womans body than good, but that is their choice.

Once we start taking away womens right to choose, I hope we can take away the acts of war, capitol punishment, etc.

Sometimes I wish that we lived still in a day where the English language was still non-existent.

here is a response i had made in another forum about this topic:

"mean if you really want to get technical tying your tubes would be consider premeditated murder as well as men have their procedures. I mean really where do we stop. IF you take away a womans right to choose, there goes a lot more than just abortion.

Abortion will be a touchy subject because everyone will always feel like they are right no matter which position they are standing in.

I will ask you this, god forbid if ever a person put in the position of having to take their child off of life support, would that be considered murder??

See my thing is very simple, nooooooooooooo it is not ok to run and have an abortion as a form BC. TO me that is so wrong! But if it comes down to being pregnant and finding out the baby wont make it pass your 10 wk, your 20 wk, and you decide to have a the procedure done then i dont see nothing wrong with that. if you are pregnant and you find out that the odds of your life ending are far greater when giving birth, this is a decision for you to make and if you choose to not put your life at risk i would not hold it against you... do you see where i am going with this?

Medical in my book is ok
Stupidity not ok in my book
(medical includes mental health)"

 
At Saturday, November 08, 2008 12:24:00 PM, Blogger jpobrien said...

I just had this discussion with a friend yesterday and explained it this way: I am pro-life and that is based on the value of human life being given by our Creator. I want to protect the life of the unborn at all costs, as I would any other innocent human being whose life was being endangered by someone who does not hold to the value system that life is precious and needs to be protected. A murderer has proven that they do not value human life and precious, to the point that they have unjustly taken that life from one or more people. A person like Ted Bundy proved that he did not value human life and the right of others to live. Within the realm of society and government, if we truly value life, those that don't and take another's life, have forsaken their right to live.
I hear people say that it is hypocritical to say you are pro-life and Pro-capital punishment...I would argue that it is hypocritical to be pro-life and NOT support capital punishment.

In being against abortion, I am supporting the right of an innocent person to live. In being supportive of capital punishment, I am continuing to hold that value of innocent human life, by saying if you take the life of someone there is an ultimate price to pay. Those that argue against capital punishment are placing a higher value of life on the murderer rather then the one whose life they took!

 
At Saturday, November 08, 2008 8:41:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

jpobrien, but just to extend your argument, wouldn't you include the individual who performs an abortion as one who should also suffer capital punishment? Or do you find that the life of a fetus and the life of a person already born have sufficiently different value that one dictating punishment from a moral point of view might also accept different punishments? ..Maurice.

 
At Tuesday, April 28, 2009 2:05:00 PM, Blogger Ryan James Jenkins said...

Pro Life for the innocent and Death Penalty for taking the innocent

 
At Tuesday, June 02, 2009 8:35:00 PM, Anonymous Daniel N said...

I will stay with Christianity since it is what I know.

Saying that any person or society can judge whether a person is deserving of death or not is playing the role of God. The Bible is very clear that the only one that is able to judge is God.
On a very basic level, most of us know the line "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone..." This passage goes on to explain that the judgments of man are not equal to the judgments of God.

You cannot justify the sin of killing another human being by the sinful acts that they have committed. There are no "justified" killing, ever, in the Christian faith. For those that argue this please grab your new testaments and read the whole thing, not just the verse that supports your views. I welcome your opinion on this.

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 11:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daniel great point! Probably the best I have heard it. Life is a gift granted to us by God. Who are we to decide who is or is not worthy of God's gift? I think that the most striking example would be the punishment God saved for Cain after the murder of Abel. God did not take the life of Cain, but forced him to live his life as "a restless wanderer on the earth." This story is one of the defining stories in the Bible and speaks volumes about this issue. JoshG

 
At Monday, July 20, 2009 7:30:00 AM, Blogger stephy said...

This was interesting...thanks for writing about it, it's a loaded subject for sure.

 
At Sunday, December 27, 2009 9:15:00 PM, Blogger JoelB said...

Well, for me pro-life is about right to life, because a baby is defenseless and mature, conscientious adults have the responsibility to defend the defenseless. (Hence, we have created fire and police departments.) I'm also pro-capital punishment and I don't really believe there's some irony or conflict of beliefs.

Here's why: last time I heard of any mass murderer, they weren't deaf, nor illiterate, nor lacking in intelligence. They didn't do it on accident. They know when they live in a certain state or country the risks they take for their actions. A drunk driver who kills a family of 6, goes to jail for a very long time, and very well-deservedly. How does a serial rapist or murderer not deserve the natural, previously stated consequences of their actions?

Also, it should be very well recognized that capital punishment is not a federal law, but state law. Abortion, on the other hand, is a federal law, taking away the state's rights, according to the U.S Constitution and Bill of Rights, to choose for their constituents the correct way to apply the concept of right to life.

Ethical conflict? For me, not in the slightest. On the other hand, the people that are okay with murdering babies through abortion and allowing murderers that destroy the lives of the people and the loved ones around them to live.... that's a puzzler for me.

IMO.

 
At Monday, October 11, 2010 6:08:00 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

It's simple. Pro-life is meant for the helpless lives of unborn children, that by no fault of their own, are being killed. You can support pro-life while still being pro-capital punishment. These people have committed horrific crimes and taken innocent people's lives. That is like comparing slavery to prison. The slaves are being help captive through no fault of their own, while prisoners are being punished for doing something they know was wrong.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 7:11:00 PM, Anonymous DrJayR said...

First, I'd like simply to comment on the thoughtfulness of many of the previous comments. Three cheers for thoughtfulness!

A few questions for all-of-the-above to ponder...

1) Aren't we anthropomorphizing a bit when a two-celled embryo is referred to as "a person"? It's not a person, it's an embryo. "Potential person"? Maybe. But then, as lakotabunnygrl aluded to, wouldn't it be "murder" for a woman to tie her tubes or even for a man to masturbate, depriving some "potential personhood"?

2) The current (mid-term 2010) political candidates who hold that they are anti-bortion EVEN IN THE CASES of RAPE & INCEST, are at least (somehow) intellectually consistent....Does God care if a fetus is the product of rape or abortion?

3) Do the various folks posting comments base their views on the sanctity of life on secular ethics/morality, or on a religion, e.g. Christianity? I'm no expert on the Bble, but, does the Christian God not view ALL of us as "innocents"? Who are we to decide who is "innocent" in the cosmic view? So, do we decide; or does God decide? Is God consistent? Does He differentiate between an innocent fetus & a serial murderer who has truly repented for his sins? Or even not repented for his sins?

Abraham's comments were particularly thought-provoking--I'd never specifically thought of the issue in the converse. In summary, I'm pro-abortion (because I don't belive a fetus is a person) and anti-capital punishment (because a mass murderer, no matter how heinous his crime, IS a person, and I don't believe we humans have the right to take that person's life).

DrJayR

 

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