By 1998 in the United Kingdom, not a single peacetime offence was punishable by death. The final execution had taken place in 1964, during a five year trial spell when the death penalty for high crimes such as murder, was abolished. Certain crimes, such as treason, were still punishable by death up until the close of the millennium. In many countries, death remains a punishment. Whether it is the lethal injection, beheading by sword or even stoning, people are still being killed for committing crimes.
Death naturally surrounds everyday life. Not only is it the end of a person’s physical manifestation (not necessarily the spiritual one, I hasten to add), but in many cultures, my own included, death has a very stark label stuck upon it. A label it cannot shake. Indeed, when people have recently passed on, they aren’t always honoured properly. The topic is almost glossed over. People seem flushed by the expenditure such a conversation might require. Disappointing in my opinion. Across the globe, death is received in many different fashions. Not all cultures permit a person to mourn the loss of somebody. To mourn is to be filled with negativity. When loved ones die, their life should be celebrated, for in that celebration, they shall be immortalized. In other places, mourning seems to be the only thing that happens. So much mourning, so much despair and dejection until the living mourner’s spirit has died, too; then, all that remains is a living animation of death itself, a festering personality driven mad by grief and anguish.
In these moments, when the grief is a raw slice on the person’s spirit, blood red and howling with agony, the individual recoils. Humans are wont to seek attention because our emotions are often more powerful than we anticipate. Emotions which, therefore, we cannot control. However, at times, when the despondency is rife within a person, and they need to be able to feel a presence, something palpable and full of will and able to offer a light at the end of the tunnel - sometimes, we are bound and wrapped up too tightly by this pain, and we wince, flinch back, retreat away. Sometimes it is less about the death and more about a cocoon of self-sympathy.
I wonder if, with the abolition of the death penalty, the United Kingdom’s perceptions of death have changed. Initially, it seems that there is one clear argument against this suggestion. The argument being that, with immigration, continuous procreation and the dying of the older generations, eventually the population will no longer contain anybody who was alive at the time of the last execution. All that will remain are historical reports and textbook writings. The closest examples will be of other countries who maintain a death penalty. The United States, in two thirds of the fifty states, no longer use the death penalty. In those which still incorporate methods such as the lethal injection, gas chamber and electric chair into the punishment system, there remains much debate over the ethical and moral issues.
One of the biggest problems with a state-wide death penalty is that ultimately every single case will have different circumstances and occurrences. As with the interminable debate over abortion being right or wrong or neither and simply the individual’s choice, there is no conclusion. A woman who has been raped by a man she feels nothing except hatred towards is unlikely to want to bring a child by this man into the world, is she? There are special circumstances in some countries for victims of rape, and so there should be. Procreation is not the only duty of humanity, this in itself is evinced by the growing liberty towards same sex relationships, and this social and individual freedom is, in and of itself, an expression that we are more than simply reproductive animals. We feel emotions which we pursue, which we feel in our very core. If a person does not want to procreate, then why should they? If a person is gay, why should that be a problem?
This woman, raped by a man she hates. What do we feel for her? Sympathy, fear, even an understanding among some of us. In the child, she will have a psychologically pernicious memory biting at her. The gelid, icy recollection of the outrageous crime against her freedom, her choice, her body. Might it freeze her internally? Make her hate herself as she sees that, by having this child, she succumbed to the insemination of this criminal who has sought to blindly hurt her for his own momentary pleasure? All of which created this child and, no matter how strong the love for that child…it would be hard for her. So hard that she might decide to abort beforehand. Some risks aren’t always worth taking.
Certain cultures and religions dictate that members and practitioners abide by strict codes of procreation or the opposite. There can also be the issue of whether the pregnancy has occurred outside of a marital circle. What of the situation and circumstances the child will be born into? Could poverty be a strong enough reason to abort a pregnancy? What of the parents. Two students in their second year at university, indulging in a night of lust, which goes a little wrong. Where do they go with their unfinished education?
Abortion and the death penalty both focus on the taking of a life. A lot of debate still exists, too, on at what stage abortion becomes the killing of a child rather than a foetus. A week, two weeks, ten weeks, twenty-four weeks? Is mercy itself more merciful in the earliest stage? Quite possibly.
Life, and death. Centuries ago, crimes, wrongdoings, social affliction from one house or family to the next might have been settled by witnessed duels or hired assassins or thugs. Still, on the eve of 2014, there exist areas of the world (more tribal areas) where these customs might still subsist. Tribes spread across Africa, Eastern Europe, South America (particularly the Amazon) no doubt have cultures differing from the cultures of Western civilization. The Pakaa Nova of Brazil practise ‘compassionate cannibalism’ upon the death of a loved one, which ultimately includes roasting the body towards the end of a three day ceremony and urging the attending relatives to indulge. Do they practise such a method following feuds and so forth? I do not know, nevertheless, their system seems far less complicated; and this, this word, complication, is the fulcrum of why, I think, it is safer to govern a democracy without a death penalty. Why it is safer to ultimately allow abortion as an option if people so desire it. For every ten abortions which were required by a couple who simply were too caught up to use protection, there would doubtless be a victim of attack or poverty, and as beautiful as procreation is, might there be a time and a place to raise a child?
Life, and death. I’ve talked about vengeance and justice in other articles; the blur. The internal blur which can consume us in the way paroxysms of rage consume us, until we know no more what the right outcome is. To experience the brutal murder of a friend or loved one would drive raw hate through a person, wouldn’t it? And the criminal, that person would argue, would deserve nothing more or less than death in kind. But do two wrongs make a right? Are they even two wrongs? Perhaps the second question is a better one. I’m still unsure.