A Life for a Life: Reviewing Capital Punishment
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Crucifixion – though forever associated with one specific crucifixion, this method was used by the Romans for criminals found guilty of high treason.
- Crushing – the condemned is squashed by an object of considerable weight.
- Disembowelment – the removal of the victim’s intestines.
- Dismemberment – removing any limb through the use of a variety of things. One famous of which is to be dismembered by horses.
- 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.
- Elephant – the victim is crushed by the foot of an elephant. The elephants used were usually abnormally huge to make the force stronger.
- Flaying – also called skinning. This method removes the skin of the condemned.
- 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.
- Impalement – a foreign object is injected into the body such as a stick, a pole or a spear.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?