Would you want to know your last…everything?

A friend and I are talking about the death penalty and she says she would be “for” it if it was certain that it was administered fairly – that is, according to race and socio-economic status, but also, if it could be certain, every time, that the person did what they said he did (and I used that pronoun advisedly). Since they started keeping track there, The Death Penalty Information Center points out that, since 1973, an estimated 180 innocent people have been executed (innocent, that is, of the crime for which they were convicted). The American Civil Liberties Union holds that what is barbaric about capital punishment is cloaking murder in ceremony, a relic of a more barbaric culture, like slavery or flogging, that has no place in the civilized world where other forms of punishment for the worst crimes predominate. To me, what’s most cruel and unusual about the death penalty, however, isn’t death: It’s death at an appointed hour. Human competence crumples at the idea of the last thing: What if you could certainly know that this was the last time you would make spaghetti sauce or make love or … more harrowing, the last time you would see your brother alive? What if it were the fabled “last meal,” or the last time you would brush your teeth or lie down to rest? Could I administer that punishment? I might be able to, if the offense had been against one of mine. I’m not sure. And I don’t trust people who are sure.

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