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The value of a life posted 01 July 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionThe value of a life by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

This is a direct result of a conversation I had at work last night with a co-worker, although it is strongly influenced by a dozen years of questioning my attitudes toward this topic.

I'll begin by stating that I am opposed to capital punishment in any situation whatsoever. Last night, a co-worker and I were discussing a 1st degree murder case in Nashville where a woman ran through a police barricade and ended up killing two officers. I mentioned that there was some question as to whether or not she lost control of the car and that the hitting of the officers was incidental to the attempt to break through the barricade. My co-worker argued that because it was the police, special laws apply, including the possibility of imposing the death penalty for any case in which a police officer dies as the result of the criminal committing another felony, such as robbery.

This led to the pending execution of a Memphis criminal, Phillip Workman, who was given the death penalty in 1981 because a police officer died in a shootout after Workman was caught fleeing from a store that he had robbed. The evidence that has come to light seems to indicate that the bullet that killed the officer came from another officer, yet the state has argued successfully so far that due to the circumstances, Workman's death sentence was still valid.

I argued that the application of the death penalty in certain 1st degree murder cases should be replaced with mandatory life without parole, noting not just the famous Stanford statistics of 1 in 7 death penalty cases being overturned completely, but also focusing on the message that it sends when we execute someone 20-30 years after their crime was committed. I suggested that maybe a different approach should be tried, maybe establishing on a larger scale a prison works industry, where the inmates can produce things that can be sold to consumers to create some sort of good out of the bad that they have caused by their deliberate actions.

The co-worker countered with the argument that he, and many other Americans, do not want their tax dollars to go toward the maintenance of these violent offenders. He brought in the Bible as support for the common belief about the legality of the death sentence, despite recent urges from religious leaders (especially the Quakers and now the Catholic Church) to have such sentences commuted to life without parole, on grounds of moral decency.

But his reply brings up a larger question: Just how much value do we grant to a human life? Is there a certain dollar amount that should be placed on a person's contributions (or conversely, on the damage that he/she has caused society)? What does it say about societies that do weigh monetary concerns into the equation of how to treat its citizens, not just the criminals but also those who are deemed "less fortunate?" Are some humans "naturally" going to be "worth more" than others? And bringing it back to the death penalty, what effects does such a sentence have on the average citizens, knowing that such a recourse is available?

Just curious to hear thoughts on this. view post


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