The death penalty has faced much opposition as of late. Can the death penalty possibly be a morally acceptable punishment? A popular bumper sticker says, "We kill people to show people that killing people is wrong." The slogan is short, simple, and to the point. But is there really such irony in capital punishment as the slogan implies?
First of all, the slogan misses an important point. The death penalty does not punish people for killing, but for murder. Killing is justified when it is done in self-defense. Killing means to cause death. Murder, on the other hand, is defined as, "the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another" (for the less observant, this definition cannot be applied to the death penalty, because the death penalty is lawful, non-malicious, and is not carried out by an individual but by the government). "Kill," "murder," and "execute" are not interchangeable terms.
Death penalty opponents would like us to believe otherwise. Just because two actions result in the same end does not make them morally equivalent. If it were so, legal incarceration would be equated with kidnapping, lovemaking with rape, self-defense with assault, etc. Therefore, the slogan is better stated, "We execute people to show people that murder is wrong." Not quite as catchy, is it?
Morality is defined as "the principles of right and wrong." As moral creatures, humans deserve praise for good deeds, and punishment for bad ones. Punishment may range from a slap on the wrist to death, but the punishment must fit the crime. This is known as lex talionis, or in common jargon, "an eye for an eye." Abolitionists often insist that if we argue for lex talion justice we must be prepared to rape rapists, beat sadists, and burn down the houses...