Friday, April 15, 2005

Thoughts about the death penalty

People opposed to the death penalty claim many often contradictory things. They claim that execution is too cruel in one breath, and then claim it is less painful than life in prison. They claim they are against it because those wrongfully convicted can be executed, without even considering that those wrongfully convicted die in prison as well, and with fewer appeals. Finally, they claim to be against the religious sentiments of an "Eye for an Eye" while at the same time using "Thou shalt not kill." Apparently, anything that isn't perfect is not worth doing at all.

To which I offer this thought experiment:

You are sitting in front of a button and told that if you press it, there's a 5% chance an innocent person will die. Unfortunately, if you don't press it, there's a 10% chance an innocent person will die. Do you press it or not?

The same thing with the law. Justice is not perfect, and if you punish anyone there's always a chance that person is innocent. You have to balance the possibility of punishing the innocent with the chance that releasing a guilty person will cause other innocent people to suffer. The best course is to try to minimize suffering, not refusing to act.

That said, the cost of invoking the death penalty is very high, so it should be done only in the most egregious, clear-cut cases. Probably a cheaper way would be to drop those convicted of "capital" crimes on a barren island somewhere, to live out their lives as best they can.

Another idea: Death by cryogenics.

Take a person convicted of capital murder and dump him into a tank of liquid nitrogen, instantly freezing him. Alcor charges $150,000 for whole-body freezing, which is much less than the appeals process.

Sure, we don't have a way of unthawing them yet, but if the court ever determines they were not guilty on appeal we can keep them on ice until there is a way to revive them.

Plus, this would give valuable research data in cryogenic freezing for regular people and future space travelers.

/Thank you, Larry Niven.


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