The Supreme Court has ruled 7-2 that the death penalty by lethal injection in Kentucky, which uses a cocktail of three drugs, is not a violation of the Constitution's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment." Other states, which had placed their lethal injection methods on hold pending a court ruling, are now expected to proceed. No news report I saw appreciated the irony of the 7-2 vote, the same margin by which the court decided in 1973 that unborn babies could be killed in any manner, with or without drugs to dull their pain.
As death penalty opponents on and off the court lament the execution of convicted murderers who are getting their just desserts, some definitions might be helpful. The two phrases associated with this procedure are "death penalty" and "capital punishment." The word penalty is defined by Dictionary.com as "a punishment imposed or incurred for a violation of law or rule." Another definition includes the word "consequence." Punishment is defined as "a penalty inflicted for an offense."
It is this last one that gets to the heart of the conflict in a culture that takes as its foundational principle, "It can't be wrong if it feels so right." Fewer of us recall a time when a standard for distinguishing right from wrong and evil from good enjoyed wide acceptance. Now bad behavior enjoys nonstop TV coverage and evil is what the other political party does. The idea that a death penalty might be deserved seems foreign.
In self-defense, most see nothing wrong with taking a life if another person is about to take theirs. It is only if the killer succeeds that some strange notion kicks in that the killer's life suddenly inherits value and comes under constitutional protection. Conversely, the unborn child, according to the same court, only has a right to live if the woman carrying it gives it that right. Should she decide not to give birth, any method, including drug cocktails, is allowed. It mocks life when anti-death penalty people advocate for the guilty, while caring nothing for the unborn.
Justice John Paul Stevens, who voted with the majority that restored capital punishment in 1976, announced in his dissenting opinion in the Kentucky case his reliance on his "own experience" in reaching his decision to now oppose the procedure in all instances. This sums up the tension between those who believe in what the Constitution says and those who believe in their own feelings as to what it should say. This is why elections matter and this year's election matters more than any in recent years.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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