We often say that a person who dies is relieved of suffering. However, if death is real, then it is metaphorical even to say that the dead do not suffer, as though something of them remains not to suffer. As there are already many speculations about some sort of 'next life,' I will focus on the view that death is real and marks the final end of an individual's life. Let us explore the metaphor that death is a wall a bit further.
Each of us is born facing this wall. From that moment on, every step we take is towards it, no matter which way we turn. There is simply no other direction to take. Like a fun house mirror, the wall of death show us our living fears and distorted images of ourselves. All we see when we look at death is a reflection of our own lives. Death has no subjective meaning at all. It will come to other people, but never to me.
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Of course, I know that I am going to die. Death means the end of my future. However, as long as I am alive, I will be living toward that future possibility of no longer having possibilities. The unavoidable conclusion is that, if death is real, neither I nor you will ever personally taste death. I will cease to be conscious before the end. No matter how close I come to it, death recedes before me. I am actually dead only for others.
When the end actually arrives, my dead body passes into the hands of the coroner. I will no longer be there.
Death essays on penalty
Death is always described from the perspective of the living. The concept of death is unlike most other concepts. Usually we have an object and the concept of that object. For example, we have a horse and the concept of a horse. However, the concept of death is absolutely without any object whatsoever.
Thinking about the prospect of one's own death is a constant meditation upon our own ignorance. There is no method for getting to know death better, because death cannot be known at all. One trouble with discussing this topic is the instinctive fear of death.
We tend to avoid death in our thoughts and actions. However, if we could forget our fears for a minute, we could see more clearly how interesting the concept actually is from a more detached point of view. Birth and death are the bookends of our lives. Living towards death in time gives one's life a direction and framework within which to understand the changes that life brings.
- "A good death": We like the idea, but how often does this really happen?.
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The world looks very differently to the young and the old. Since , only 51 women have been executed in the United States 15 of them black. Discrimination against the poor and in our society, racial minorities are disproportionately poor is also well established. It is a prominent factor in the availability of counsel.
Fairness in capital cases requires, above all, competent counsel for the defendant. Yet "approximately 90 percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried. As Justice William O. Douglas noted in Furman , "One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society" US The demonstrated inequities in the actual administration of capital punishment should tip the balance against it in the judgment of fair-minded and impartial observers.
Justice John Marshall Harlan, writing for the Court in Furman , noted "… the history of capital punishment for homicides … reveals continual efforts, uniformly unsuccessful, to identify before the fact those homicides for which the slayer should die…. Those who have come to grips with the hard task of actually attempting to draft means of channeling capital sentencing discretion have confirmed the lesson taught by history….
To identify before the fact those characteristics of criminal homicides and their perpetrators which call for the death penalty, and to express these characteristics in language which can be fairly understood and applied by the sentencing authority, appear to be tasks which are beyond present human ability.
Yet in the Gregg decision, the majority of the Supreme Court abandoned the wisdom of Justice Harlan and ruled as though the new guided-discretion statutes could accomplish the impossible. The truth is that death statutes approved by the Court "do not effectively restrict the discretion of juries by any real standards, and they never will. No society is going to kill everybody who meets certain preset verbal requirements, put on the statute books without awareness of coverage of the infinity of special factors the real world can produce.
Evidence obtained by the Capital Jury Project has shown that jurors in capital trials generally do not understand the judge's instructions about the laws that govern the choice between imposing the death penalty and a life sentence. Even when they do comprehend, jurors often refuse to be guided by the law.
The effect [of this relative lack of comprehension of the law]… is to reduce the likelihood that capital defendants will benefit from the safeguards against arbitrariness built into the… law. Even if the jury's sentencing decision were strictly governed by the relevant legal criteria, there remains a vast reservoir of unfettered discretion: the prosecutor's decision to prosecute for a capital or lesser crime, the court's willingness to accept or reject a guilty plea, the jury's decision to convict for second-degree murder or manslaughter rather than capital murder, the determination of the defendant's sanity, and the governor's final clemency decision, among others.
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Discretion in the criminal justice system is unavoidable. The history of capital punishment in America clearly demonstrates the social desire to mitigate the harshness of the death penalty by narrowing the scope of its application. Whether or not explicitly authorized by statutes, sentencing discretion has been the main vehicle to this end. But when sentencing discretion is used — as it too often has been — to doom the poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised, it becomes injustice.
Mindful of such facts, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association including 20 out of 24 former presidents of the ABA called for a moratorium on all executions by a vote of to in February The House judged the current system to be "a haphazard maze of unfair practices. In its survey of the death penalty in the United States, the International Commission of Jurists reinforced this point.
Despite the efforts made over the past two decades since Gregg to protect the administration of the death penalty from abuses, the actual "constitutional errors committed in state courts have gravely undermined the legitimacy of the death penalty as a punishment for crime. The ALI, which created the modern legal framework for the death penalty in , indicated that the punishment is so arbitrary, fraught with racial and economic disparities, and unable to assure quality legal representation for indigent capital defendants, that it can never be administered fairly.
Thoughtful citizens, who might possibly support the abstract notion of capital punishment, are obliged to condemn it in actual practice. Unlike any other criminal punishments, the death penalty is irrevocable. Speaking to the French Chamber of Deputies in , years after having witnessed the excesses of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette said, "I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.
Since , in this country, there have been on the average more than four cases each year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder. Scores of these individuals were sentenced to death. In many cases, a reprieve or commutation arrived just hours, or even minutes, before the scheduled execution. These erroneous convictions have occurred in virtually every jurisdiction from one end of the nation to the other. Nor have they declined in recent years, despite the new death penalty statutes approved by the Supreme Court.
We like to talk about “a good death.” But how often does this really happen?
Disturbingly, and increasingly, a large body of evidence from the modern era shows that innocent people are often convicted of crimes — including capital crimes — and that some have been executed. He was convicted largely based on eyewitness testimony made from the back of a police car in a dimly lit lot near the crime scene. This sample of freakish and arbitrary innocence determinations also speaks directly to the unceasing concern that there are many more innocent people on death rows across the country — as well as who have been executed.
Several factors seen in the above sample of cases help explain why the judicial system cannot guarantee that justice will never miscarry: overzealous prosecution, mistaken or perjured testimony, race, faulty police work, coerced confessions, the defendant's previous criminal record, inept and under-resourced defense counsel, seemingly conclusive circumstantial evidence, and community pressure for a conviction, among others.
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And when the system does go wrong, it is often volunteers from outside the criminal justice system — journalists, for example — who rectify the errors, not the police or prosecutors. To retain the death penalty in the face of the demonstrable failures of the system is unacceptable, especially since there are no strong overriding reasons to favor the death penalty. Prisoners are executed in the United States by any one of five methods; in a few jurisdictions the prisoner is allowed to choose which one he or she prefers:.
The traditional mode of execution, hanging , is an option still available in Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington. Death on the gallows is easily bungled: If the drop is too short, there will be a slow and agonizing death by strangulation.
If the drop is too long, the head will be torn off. Two states, Idaho and Utah, still authorize the firing squad. The prisoner is strapped into a chair and hooded. A target is pinned to the chest. Five marksmen, one with blanks, take aim and fire.
Throughout the twentieth century, electrocution has been the most widely used form of execution in this country, and is still utilized in eleven states, although lethal injection is the primary method of execution. The condemned prisoner is led — or dragged — into the death chamber, strapped into the chair, and electrodes are fastened to head and legs. When the switch is thrown the body strains, jolting as the voltage is raised and lowered.
Often smoke rises from the head. There is the awful odor of burning flesh. No one knows how long electrocuted individuals retain consciousness. In , the electrocution of John Evans in Alabama was described by an eyewitness as follows:. Evans' body. Sparks and flames erupted … from the electrode tied to Mr. Evans' left leg. His body slammed against the straps holding him in the electric chair and his fist clenched permanently.
The electrode apparently burst from the strap holding it in place. A large puff of grayish smoke and sparks poured out from under the hood that covered Mr. Evans' face. An overpowering stench of burnt flesh and clothing began pervading the witness room. Two doctors examined Mr. Evans and declared that he was not dead.
Evans was administered a second thirty second jolt of electricity. The stench of burning flesh was nauseating.