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A Life for a Life: Reviewing Capital Punishment

Updated on December 27, 2015

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the legal process of putting a person to death in the jurisdiction of the state. Crimes that result to it are known as capital offences. Capital punishment was coined from the Latin word "capital" defined as being "concerned with the head". Originally, death penalty used the method of severing the head, such as decapitation.


One of the most common and earliest examples of documents in support of the death penalty is the Code of Hammurabi written in 1760 BC. It contains 282 laws specified by the Babylonian King Hammurabi. It also contains the famous line "An eye for an eye." A significant number of other written manifestos in support of the death penalty is also present in ancient times. Examples of which are the Jewish Torah, Christian Old Testament, and the writings of an Athenian legislator by the name of Draco.

Early methods of capital punishment were made to maximize the pain of the accused often invoking torture and slow death. A common feature of ancient rituals is the presence of an audience. Some, like stoning, made the spectators an important part of the practice since they were the ones who will throw stones at the victims.

San Marino abolished capital punishment in ordinary crimes in 1848. However, the first country to abolish death penalty on all crimes was Venezuela in 1863 followed by Costa Rica 14 years after.

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines prohibited death penalty except for certain crimes, making it the first Asian country to do so. It was reinstated in 1993 during Fidel V. Ramos’ term. His successor, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, suspended it in 2000, following the appeal of his spiritual advisor Bishop Teodoro Bacani in honor of the bimillenial anniversary of Jesus’ birth. It was continued a year after. On June 24, 2006, Pres. Gloria Arroyo signed Republic Act No. 9346 abolishing the death penalty on all crimes. Prior to this, on April 15, 2006, an estimated number of 1,230 death row inmates had their sentences commutated to life imprisonments.

The burning of Jakob Rohrbach, a leader of the peasants during the German Peasants' War.
The burning of Jakob Rohrbach, a leader of the peasants during the German Peasants' War. | Source


Past methods

  1. Boiling – used a large pot and some variety of liquid more common of which was lead and water. The prisoner is sort of “cooked” to death.
  2. Burning – burning alive. It is usually done in front of a crowd and was the standard punishment for people accused to be witches in the medieval times.
  3. Crucifixion – though forever associated with one specific crucifixion, this method was used by the Romans for criminals found guilty of high treason.
  4. Crushing – the condemned is squashed by an object of considerable weight.
  5. Disembowelment – the removal of the victim’s intestines.
  6. Dismemberment – removing any limb through the use of a variety of things. One famous of which is to be dismembered by horses.
  7. Drawing and quartering – the condemned is drawn by a carriage into the execution site. It is there where the prisoner is to be disemboweled, decapitated and then split into four portions.
  8. Elephant – the victim is crushed by the foot of an elephant. The elephants used were usually abnormally huge to make the force stronger.
  9. Flaying – also called skinning. This method removes the skin of the condemned.
  10. Immurement – the criminal is locked up in a room with no ways of exit except a tiny hole to which air is to enter. More of a type of life imprisonment than capital punishment, this method is clearly different from being buried alive as the purpose of this is to make the victim die out of dehydration and starvation.
  11. Impalement – a foreign object is injected into the body such as a stick, a pole or a spear.
  12. Premature burial – the prisoner is buried alive with the intention to suffocate him/her. This method was usually practiced in women who married as a virgin when in fact she was no longer one.
  13. Sawing – the prisoner is held upside down with his feet tied to a steady contraption. Officials would then cut his body into two whilst naked. The cutting started from the bowels to the head which resulted in two vertical parts of the body.
  14. Scaphism – one of the slowest methods of capital punishment which often made use of a boat or a hollow tree. The victim is fed a diet so as to invoke irregular bowel movements or Diarrhea. The prisoner is then tied to a hollow tree or a boat, covered in honey and other chemicals that attract insects then set to float in the sea. The combined smell of his feces and the honey will deceive the insect to thinking that the person is a nest and will breed in it. Some insects will eat the flesh instead. One of the longest durations of this was the case of Mithridates, lasting 17 days before dying.
  15. Slow slicing – also known as Lingchi (Chinese). This method involves strategically cutting specific parts of the body while the condemned is tied to a pole.

Current methods

  1. Decapitation – the removal of the head from the torso. A famous example of decapitation is the guillotine which was used in France in the middle ages. Although it is still bloody, the guillotine was actually used to lower the torturous effects of capital punishment and thus making it more humane.
  2. Electrocution – the victim is strapped into an electric chair where electric current will run throughout his body. Only two countries have used electrocution, USA and the Philippines.
  3. Gas chamber – an enclosed room is filled with poisonous air (carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen etc.) where the accused is to be locked up. The victim will die of suffocation and/or poisoning.

Public perception

Most countries today have abolished the death penalty completely. However, about 60% of the world’s population lives in countries where capital punishment is still in effect. These people live in the highly populated parts of the world such as USA, China, India and Indonesia.

The death penalty to supporters is a way of deterring crimes. People would be afraid to commit wrongful doings because of the heavy punishment. It is also considered that having the death penalty around means needing to have a high sense of responsibility and decision. The individual has the control switch to his own life; he has the choice and therefore has the freedom. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that freedom of choice is never universally applicable especially in the biases of the current system imposing capital punishment. Race, ethnicity, gender and social status: these are highly considered in pronouncing the verdict of a person on trial. Not to mention money. A common joke: capital punishment, because without the capital you get the punishment. Capital meaning money of course as attorney quality was only possible in the presence of a big amount in the check.

In the modern society, things like the capital punishment have no place. It is ancient and barbaric. Government people seek different methods to make the process more humane but in reality, the whole thing itself – death penalty itself – is very inhumane. It is stated in the Ten Commandments of the Bible, “Thou shall not kill.” We kill people to show that killing people is wrong. What are we doing?


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    • Jonas Rodrigo profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      Insightful analysis, Greensleeves. My stand in the issue is similar to yours. I believe capital punishment can have a place in society, just not the current one. There are too much negative forces that can use it to their advantage. Unless we get over those, we should not rely on capital punishment to charge our criminals.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      3 years ago from Essex, UK

      I have always been able to see both sides on capital punishment. On the one hand, it is easy to feel that some individuals are so evil that they really do deserve the ultimate punishment. One also feels that fear of execution must deter at least some criminals. And why should society have to pay for the long term upkeep of a murderer undergoing life imprisonment?

      On the other hand, some people convicted of capital crimes have subsequently been found to be innocent victims of a misarriage of justice - too late if they've already been executed. One may also argue that a life time of incarceration for a killer is actually a more severe and just penalty than a quick and painless execution. What's more, capital punishment denies any possibility of social or spiritual rehabilitation later in life.

      At the end of the day, one argument overrides all others for me. Killing a defenceless person just seems to me to devalue the civilised nature of a society. So I come down against capital punishment.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      I agree. We should do what's best for humanity as a whole and not just for the satisfaction of a few people.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 

      3 years ago

      Thanks Jonas. The narration is so horrible.... My God what a gruesome ways of putting an end to one's life? Capital punishment must be conditional and by all means it should be a justification for the crimes committed. But apart from that no one should be allowed to treat a human in such a horrible and barbaric manner just to show anger or fulfill the vested interest or as a tool to threat. I wonder how come in the name of Islam some people behead innocent persons so mercilessly? Do they find any support from Islam, which has strictly prohibited the innocent killings and sternly warned against inhuman and mutilating kind of deeds?

      As far the punishment itself one should think how far it proves to be beneficial for the prisoners and in what ways it changes their lives and make them a respectable member of the society.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      It also made me horrified when I first read about them. That's why I decided to write about it. More people need to know.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Jonas.....I didn't expect this hub to be exactly what I discovered. This has literally made me sick...I am horrified. It's extremely painful for me to accept that human beings can create such barbarism.....much less carry it out.

      I wrote a hub on Capital Punishment.....but it involved the U.S.A. and the law.......controversy and opinions.....

      I can truthfully say that until this hub...I did not know of some of those dreadfully gruesome and torturous methods of Capital Punishment.

      It's just not human...........UP++++

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      Well... it's use is not exactly as a form of punishment; more of a threat.

    • peachpurple profile image


      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Cutting heads off is still conducted by the islam right now is it? i think you know who are they right?

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      Great insight. Thanks for reading my hub.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Great Hub.

      I was watching the documentary "The Men Who Built America" and they explained how the electric chair was developed. A penal institution wrote a letter to Thomas Edison asking him to invent a more humane method of execution because they felt that hanging was an outdated method. Keep in mind, this was during the time when Edison and Nikola Tesla were competing to establish their own method of electricity; Alternating Current (AC) by Tesla and Direct Current (DC) by Edison.

      Edison decided to create a chair which sent electrical currents through the condemned prisoner. The catch was that he decided to use AC so the public would associate it with danger and death, therefore making his DC seem safer. For obvious reasons, Edison was not able to test it before its official use, but he decided to proceed with an official execution anyway. The results were morbid because because it took several tries, which took a long time and did a lot of grotesque damage to the dismay of onlookers. The problem was that instead of associating the carnage with Tesla's AC, they associated it with Edison himself since he was the creator, thus his reputation and the reputation of DC took a large hit. Nevertheless, later on he and his sponsor, J.P. Morgan, succeeded in choking out Tesla and his sponsor, Westinghouse. Regardless, we now use AC/DC.

      I just thought that would be an interesting tidbit. Btw, great Hub! Voted up.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      We have tried many ways to make the killing a little more "humane," but I don't think you can do that for something that strips off humanity in the first place. Thank you for reading my hub.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      3 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      It’s amazing the methods we’ve come up with over the years to end a person’s life – makes you wonder about the folk who dreamed up this stuff in the first place. All very interesting, if a little gruesome! Voted up.


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