Choosing Life Should Mean Ending the Death Penalty

I have an op-ed today in The Examiner, Choose Life, End the Death Penalty.

What I’m asking is, assuming arguendo, that a fetus is a live person, which is what those who are pro-life believe, how can these same people justify the death penalty?

The way I see it:

It is hypocritical for those who rely on their religion to support their pro-life views also not to oppose the death penalty. A life is a life and it is not their place to determine which are innocent and which are beyond redemption, particularly when the tenets of their religion provide that such decisions belong to their Maker.

It's time to call them on the hypocrisy. My modest proposal is to start with a small step:

Any state that authorizes license plates to display the words “Choose Life” must do so at the top of the plate, with the phrase “End the Death Penalty” at the bottom.

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    re (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 10:59:22 AM EST
      I don't support the death penalty but, that argument conflating abortion with capital punishment was lame 40 years ago and tired and lame now.

       The death penalty is not imposed at the discretion  of an individual on a person whose only "offense" is being unwanted.

       Pretending not to see that there is more complexity to BOTH issues than such simplistic sloganeering suggests helps neither the cause of abortion advocates or capital punishment opponents.

      One can sincerely and consistently be for both capital punishment and abortion rights or against both.

       I could make a similarly bad argument that those who support legalizing "doctor assisted suicide" must also support capital punishment, but I won't because bad arguments are very unpersuasive.

    Question (none / 0) (#2)
    by Wile ECoyote on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 11:18:02 AM EST
    Does that mean people who support ending the death penalty should also support ending abortions?  

    No, It Doesn't Mean That (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 11:28:41 AM EST
    Not if they believe, as I do, that life begins at birth.  A fetus is not a human being until it's born in my book.  

    Avoid silly words like "arguendo" .... (none / 0) (#4)
    by jerry on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 11:34:07 AM EST
    What does arguendo do for your op-ed other than mark you as a lawyer?

    Why not use "for the sake of argument" a phrase most everyone with a high school education would understand?

    If lawyers strived to use clear everyday language whenever possible, we would need fewer lawyers.  Oh.  I seem to have answered my own question.

    You didn't hear? (none / 0) (#5)
    by dday on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 12:14:03 PM EST
    Life begins at conception and ends at conviction.

    Or, if you think about the lack of children's health insurance in this country, life begins at conception and ends at birth.

    When did the trolls take over the asylum, (none / 0) (#6)
    by Kitt on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 12:39:44 PM EST
    And who gave 'em permission?

    "I don't support the death penalty but, that argument conflating abortion with capital punishment was lame 40 years ago and tired and lame now."

    No, it's not. It's the very argument those who are make every attempt to be consistent with the 'culture of life.' It's not a view I hold though I've known many and do know many who make every attempt to align their beliefs consistently.

    As for someone's comment about not using big words 'cuz we just don't understand 'em or the average person won't... get a dictionary. It's part and parcel of expanding one's horizons. Someone with a high school education? The average newspaper is written at a 6th-grade reading level. Simply because someone has graduated from high school doesn't ensure they're even capable of reading at the level required to read newspapers.

    wow (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 12:55:35 PM EST
    Not if they believe, as I do, that life begins at birth.

    Jeralyn, in all the threads on abortion on TL, you are, I believe one of, if not the first person to ever come right out and say "I believe life begins at birth."

    Would you mind telling us how you support such a belief?

    Life Begins (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 04:47:17 PM EST
    I believe life begins when one takes their first breath.  That's when one becomes a human being on the planet earth.

    re: Life Begins (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 07:02:26 PM EST
    Jeralyn, thank you for your response. Although it's not really an answer to my question as I'm sure you are aware.

    I really would be interested in the fundamental question of how you support your position. Why does human life begin at first breath?

    For example, for me, human life starts at the point of viability.

    Fundamentally, at that point, a fetus changes from something that depends on its physical attachment to another living being for its very existence - like an earlobe - and becomes a living being that can survive "on its own."

    I also recognize that that position is not without it's weaknesses.

    Anyway, for you, why does human life begin at first breath?

    I, and I imagine others as well, really would be interested in knowing.


    Choose Death (none / 0) (#8)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 12:56:06 PM EST
    How about simply, "Choose Death" as the exact opposite to Choose Life?

    hasn't the pope (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jen M on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 01:07:30 PM EST
    come out against the death penalty?

    Yes (none / 0) (#10)
    by mindfulmission on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 01:59:10 PM EST
    The Pope, and the Catholic Church, have been opposed to the death penalty for a long time.

    Jeralyn...great article.  I have argued this for years with my conservative "pro-lifers."  How one can be pro-life yet support the death penalty continues to baffle me.  


    Re (none / 0) (#11)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 04:40:34 PM EST
      Then you are very easily baffled. I oppose the death penalty for a number of reasons but it is hard to believe  one who states he or she  does not understand how people can draw a factual and moral distinction between a person convicted of a heinous crime  and an unborn child/fetus which obviously has not been convicted of any crime.

      Again, people just damage theirt own credibility and persuasiveness when they make such claims of obliviousness. It's one thing to say yo disagree with people who draw the distinction, but it is entirely another to claim to be incapable of grasping the reasons for it.

       There are many moral, spiritual,  practical, etc, reasons to oppose capital punishment even with those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. However, arguing that those opposed to abortion are should be required to oppose capital puunishment betrays extreme narrow-mindedness combined with the the sort of self-righteous desire ro impose one's value system on others that is branded intolerant fundamentalism when done by people with whom we disagree.

       I'll say it again: the dogmatic ideologues of the Right and Left have almost everything in common with each other except specific policy preferences. In attitude, thinking  and behavior they are mirror images of each other, but are either to blinded by passion to recognize it, or simply unwilling to admit it. It's what turns off so many people from even becoming engaged.

    A joke, a reference and a belief (none / 0) (#14)
    by msobel on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 07:47:56 PM EST
    a joke: Fundies believe that life begins at conception, The courts believe that life begins at birth, Jews believe that life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.  (I am Jewish so it's okay)

    a reference: As I (IANAL) read Rove V Wade there is extensive history that in "original intent" or common law, life began at quickening.
    "It is undisputed that at common law, abortion performed before "quickening" -- the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy 20 -- was not an indictable offense." 21

    A Belief:  This is all a crock meant to get votes because Bush policies cause (induce ?)  more abortions

    There was a movement to try to find common ground between the anti and pro choice forces which was quickly squashed by the men running the anti forces.   You can hear the tones here

    This is all about votes.  Rovians believe that Abortion should be safe, legal and available to the entitled.

    Re: (none / 0) (#15)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 09:34:58 AM EST
      "I believe life begins when one takes their [sic]first breath.  That's when one becomes a human being on the planet earth."

      Why is taking an independent breath rather than being capable of taking one the moment humanity is endowed?

      Why is either  actually breathing independently or being capable of doing so  a moment when humanity is endowed?

      What articulable moral, biological, spiritual, medical or any other basis can you offer for that assertion?

      What argument supports your apparent conviction that your personal belief is the one upon which the law should be based over and above all othger competing beliefs?

      In light of the  competing views why should this not be considered a political question to be decided through representative processes rather judicial fiat?

       Were someone to state that he I believes  that on planet earth a person ceases to be a human being on planet Earth when he does ____ and that therefore no moral argument against capital punishment holds any weight or is worthy of thoughtful consideration should I expect you to to concede the point in the face of such "logic?"

    Every Breath You Take (none / 0) (#16)
    by Peaches on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 09:59:29 AM EST
    Although, I am in general agreement with Decon

    What articulable moral, biological, spiritual, medical or any other basis can you offer for that assertion?

    There are many articulate arguments supporting Jeralyn's position. I think we could find countless spiritual positions, documents, ideals that equate Life with breath. All one has to do is simply meditate to realize the importance of breath with life. Of course, biology also supports the breath with life position.

    Does this mean there aren't contradictions? No, but as Walt Whitman said "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes)."

    We all can take a position. It is an equally valid position to say that life begins at conception. It is also valid to say Life begins when one become self-aware. Or, Sarcs position that Life begins when it could survive on its own. All of these positions could find articulate moral, biological, medical or spiritual basis for support. But in the end moral, biological, medical, spiritual positions are human inventions and we will always contradict ourself somehow when we hold fast to a position that is based on inventions subject to change.

    So, when we find it hypocritical for conservatives to be Pro-life and supportors of the Death penalties we can be self-rightious in our ridicule of their position. However, we should be honest in our assessment because they can be just as self-righteous over our position favoring abortion yet opposing capital punishment.

    Re: (none / 0) (#17)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 10:45:11 AM EST

      That is a thoughtful post. I don't find your reasons for equating the first breath outside the womb with the endowment of humanity at all persuasive but you reveal an ability to actually think about the issue rather than attempt to draw illogical parallels.

       The problems  with that include, of course, that respiration begins long before delivery; that some people are incapable of breathing without artificial intervention after birth and at various other times during life and are still "human beings on planet Earth;" and that it mistakes one function necessary for life with life itself.

      The bottom line is that NONE of us, even clergy or lawyers, despite their often inflated sense of self worth, can know when humanity is endowed-- or even in the more metaphysical sense of whether "humanity" in that sense  truly exists or is simply a construct of our making.

      Necessarily, people have to decide what they belief for themselves for their own reasons. what I dislike-- and from the Left as much as from the Right-- is the supreme arrogance and presumptuousness of the the extremists.

      Personally, I find the life begins at first breath argument just about the weakest of any posited by anyone-- but i don't then take the huge leap to asserting that is not a position that should be listened to and considered when POLICY is made. I also don't believe that "humanity" as I view it present at the moment of congress between ovum and sperm, but again, I don't argue that is a position that thus should be ignored.

      We cannot and will not EVER have universal agreement on the question of when human life begins because it is an unknowable concept. It is not a medical or biological question at its essence and it surely NOT a constitutional or legal question question.

      While we can't answer the questions involved, we should only decide what POLICY should be implemented in light of the conflcting views of the unknowable through representative processes. Anything else is simply tyranny.

      In our society both the Far Left and the Far right aspire to tyranny. They are  equally self-righteous, narrow-minded and intolerant-- and equally frightening.  


    tyranny (none / 0) (#18)
    by Peaches on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 11:20:25 AM EST

    I agree with you. Breath seems to coincide with life but then again so does flatulence and it would be ridiculous to say life begins with the first fart. But your larger point on the far left and right.

    I am also uncomfrotable with the aspirations for tyranny from these corners. However, I am not so sure that those in the middle don't also harbor similar aspirations. In other words, I don't think we can avoid the self-righteous, narrow-minded, and intolerant simply by looking at what is on the far left then what is at the Far right and splitting the difference. I find centrists can be equally intolerant in their positions at times and I have found some people who would be labeled on the far-right or far left to be tolerant and open minded.

    This comment (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 01:09:38 PM EST
    may be the best I've ever seen on TL!
    Breath seems to coincide with life but then again so does flatulence and it would be ridiculous to say life begins with the first fart.

    Well done Peaches!

    And, yes, I'm strongly with the rest of your and Decon's comments here as well.

    While I truly wish to know Jeralyn's support for her position, and certainly wasn't trying to bait her into some long, drawn-out debate, I also realize that she's usually too cautious to expose herself here in that way.

    Unfortunate, really, but probably something to so with her not being anonymous unlike the rest of us blowhards...

    The teachings (none / 0) (#20)
    by Peaches on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 01:45:04 PM EST

    I remember reading a Carlos Costanada book when I was younger (in my twenties). Don Juan told Carlos after one of his experiences while he was coming to his senses and he let one loose. Don Juan said "You Fart, You are alive." I was living with an old girlfriend at the time. Whenever she would give me that look after I'd rip one off, I'd announce in a loud voice, "I Am Alive!!"

    I respect Jeralyns position greatly. I have always favored legalized abortions as a choice for all women. However, over the years I have made a great effort to understand those who have an opinion that abortion is taking a life. I don't have an argument to convince them that life begins at birth. I have had to learn to respect people who hold the opinion that life begins at conception. I think it is more important to understand that this  is not something we can win an argument over. We have to reach a concensus and have open dialogue. There is no room for certainty or self-righteousness in the debate, imho.  

    Well Said (none / 0) (#21)
    by NYBlue on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 02:42:48 PM EST
    With respect to the death penalty and abortion, I believe decisions of life and death should generally be left to God (or nature).  I also believe that government should stay out of our lives as much as possible.  I understand that others have views that need to be listened to as well.

    I think people on both sides of the abortion debate could learn a lot from each other if they would just listen for a moment and get off the slogans.  There are valid experiences on both sides -- from incest and backroom illegal abortion horrors to successful adoptions and regretted abortions.  I hope that a broader consensus will continue to develop around the idea that abortions should be few and far between, but when necessary, safe.  Having many family members who are adopted, I would like to believe that there is a better way than abortion in most instances of unwanted pregnancy (I stress unwanted vs. life threatening to the mother, etc.).  I think adoption is a marvelous and wonderful thing (not easy, but I believe better than abortion).

    With respect to the death penalty, early in my legal career I was asked to help prosecute a death penalty case.  I was conceptually pro-death penalty at the time.  While I have no doubt that the defendant committed the horrific calculated murders (oodles of physical evidence), after some soul searching, I found I could not be party of putting another human to death (unless defending my life or that of another person).  I asked to be removed from the case and was.  That was a decade ago.  I still cannot support the death penalty.  

    I also cannot support abortion en masse, as my wife witnessed in India being performed on women in exchange for giving them pots to cook in (as an anthropologist there to study women's roles and lives, she was horrified with how the Western left-leaning pro-abortion organizations were dealilng with these women who she came to know as mere means to the end of stopping reproduction).  Women around the world are paid by NGO's to have abortions and in some instances forced to have them performed and also forced or paid to sterilize (good use of our donations and tax dollars -- this was back when the US funded these organizations, pre-Bush).  All sides of the abortion debate need to fight to diminish the reasons why people abort - poverty, irresponsible sexual practices, sex crimes, etc.  If only there were people as committed to those causes as to keeping a woman's right to choose in place or fighting to stop abortion.  Just imagine.

    In the end, we need to cultivate respect for the most fundamental human rights -- life, liberty and property.  If we do that, everything else will follow.  But I fear that's a dream world.  The world we live in is much messier and often people of good will on the left and right end up supporting unintended evils.  For the foregoing reasons, I believe the prior poster's comment is well stated.  Each journey may lead to different conclusions but each has something to teach that can hopefully contribute to better government policies and individual actions.  I just wanted to share a little of my journey.