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Thou Shall Not Kill: The Immorality of the Death Penalty

Updated on January 11, 2018
CatherineGiordano profile image

Ms. Giordano is a writer and public speaker who is interested in politics and history.

What part of “Thou shall not kill” do we not understand?

Capital punishment is an immoral, unfair, unjust, and barbaric practice that demeans the United States. Killing is killing whether done by an individual or by the state. Killing is immoral. The death penalty is immoral.

Is the death penalty immoral?

The death penalty should horrify and haunt all Americans.
The death penalty should horrify and haunt all Americans. | Source

There is so much unavoidable death in this world--natural disasters, illness, accidents, and old age. Why then do we add to that toll with war, murder, and state-sanctioned executions?

War and murder are complicated intractable problems. But capital punishment can be abolished with the stroke of the pen.

Most countries in North America, South America, and Europe do not impose the death penalty. As of 2014, in the United States, 18 states have already abolished the death penalty, but it is still imposed in the other 32 states.

The death penalty isunfair, unjust, and immoral.
The death penalty isunfair, unjust, and immoral. | Source

Is the death penalty fair and just?

The death penalty has no benefit over long-term imprisonment. It does not deter murder, and it is much more costly than life imprisonment. The death penalty is unjust, unfair, and capricious—there are no clear guidelines as to which murder cases warrant the death penalty. It is racist because it is disproportionately used against African-Americans. Further, for a variety of reasons, an innocent person is sometimes executed.

The death penalty is so capricious that it is more like a lethal lottery than justice. In the short story by Shirley Jackson, The Lottery, each year one person from the village is chosen by lottery, and then the rest of the villagers stone the lottery “winner” to death. This is done to insure a good harvest. Is this what the death penalty is about? Are the ones we execute our scapegoats, being killed as a symbol, so we can reassure ourselves that life is fair and just?

Why do so many Americans support the death penalty?

The reason for support of the death penalty can be summed up in one word—revenge. The urge for revenge is strong within us. If someone hurts us, our instinct is to strike back.

I sometimes think about what I would do if someone close to me was murdered. I I’d just want to grab a baseball bat and club the murderer to death.

But as civilized moral human beings, we learn to control our animal instincts and emotional impulses. We learn to let go of our desire for revenge. We replace our revenge instincts with empathy.

Empathy means you identify with another person, and thus you literally feel their pain. Saddam Hussein was a terrible person, yet when he was hanged, I felt pity for him.

I also think the death penalty has wide spread support because most Americans think about it only in the abstract. We do not have public hangings so we do not have to come face to face with the reality of the state murdering a human being. Since we don’t see it, our empathy is not engaged.

Many of the people who actually carry out the death penalty, even hard-boiled prison wardens, report that they feel “haunted” by it.

I’ve always said that if I had to kill my own food I’d be a vegetarian. But even though I am willing to let someone else kill the chicken I eat, I am not willing to let someone else kill another human being for me.

It is immoral to kill another human being whether I do it myself or let the state do it for me. I think most of us intuitively feel this way and that is why we will often refer to a murderer as an “animal.” If someone is an animal, and not a human being, then it is easier to kill him.

The United States has blood on its hands with every execution.
The United States has blood on its hands with every execution. | Source

Is the death penalty humane?

We cannot convict a person of murder unless we can ascertain that they are capable of knowing right from wrong and that they understand the consequences of their actions. Thus, the mentally ill, the retarded, and children are usually exempt from the death penalty.

I suggest that ALL murder is a result of mental illness. A person who murders is not a normal person. Murderers may not be able to control their impulses and may not be able to feel empathy.

Maybe it is a birth defect--some faulty “wiring” in the brain. Or maybe childhood abuse and neglect is responsible for the murderer’s failure to develop emotionally.

We don’t kill people with birth defects or the mentally ill. We try to cure them, and if they pose a danger to themselves or others, we may place them in an institution to care for them in a humane way while safeguarding society.

Does the death penalty deter murder?

Why do we think we can deter people from killing people by killing people? That is like trying to teach our children not to hit … by hitting them. If you have raised a child, you know that “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a very effective way to teach morality.

In fact, the death penalty does not deter murder. When researchers examine the murder rates in two adjacent states—states that have similar populations—one with the death penalty and one without the death penalty, the murder rate is higher in the state with the death penalty than in the one without the death penalty.

In a subtle way, the death penalty sends a message that killing is OK, just as hitting children teaches them that hitting is OK---as long as the other person “deserved it.”

Does the convicted murderer at the time of his or her conviction “deserve it?” By the time the execution is carried out, the convicted murderer is usually not the same person who committed the crime many years earlier. If a person has changed, whether through religion, education, or psychiatric therapy, does he still “deserve” to be executed?

The death penalty does not bring closure to the victims' families.
The death penalty does not bring closure to the victims' families. | Source

Does the death penalty give closure to the families of the victim?

Sometimes it is said that we have to have capital punishment in order to give closure to the family of the person who was murdered. I interviewed Dr. Herschel Hughes, a psychiatrist in Orlando Florida who specializes in treating the families of murder victims. He said “Capital punishment prolongs the suffering of the families.”

Dr.Hughes explained that first there is the trial, and then the numerous appeals, and finally the execution. Just as the family members begin to heal from the trauma of the death of their loved one, the scab is ripped off again and again.

Dr.Hughes told me that often a family member’s anger is focused on the execution and after the execution there is not closure, but emptiness. The execution is over, but their anger and grief is still there. It would be so much better for the families of the victim if it could end with the trial.

Further, Dr. Hughes pointed out that the murderer and the victim sometimes are members of the same family. Think how terrible it must be—your son was murdered and now the state is murdering your brother.

Capital punishment also hurts the family in another way. The family has suffered the grief of losing their loved one; and often they do not want another family, the family of the murderer, to have to suffer that grief also. Often they forgive the murderer; forgiveness is what brings healing. If they can forgive, why can’t we?

Jesus asked for forgiveness, not for justice or vengeance.
Jesus asked for forgiveness, not for justice or vengeance. | Source

What do religious leaders have to say about the death penalty?

The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty. Other major religions do not have a pope to speak for the entire religion, but many of the major leaders of Protestants, Jews and even Muslims (if they are not part of the faction that believes in Sharia law) oppose it.

In the Old Testament it says, “An eye for an eye.” This meant that the punishment should not be greater that the crime (Exodus 21:24). However, the Old Testament also deemed death an appropriate punishment for a lot of things, including not keeping the Sabbath holy (Exodus 31:14). In the United States, laws are not based on the Bible.

In Christian belief, the New Testament superseded the Old Testament—a stern God was replaced by a loving God. Jesus was a victim of capital punishment. When he was on the cross, he did not ask for vengeance or justice He asked for forgiveness. (Luke 23:34).

Perhaps vengeance has no place in a modern society. Perhaps justice is not the pre-eminent value.

Once again, what part of “Thou shall not kill” do we not understand?

Please take part in this poll. Yu may use the comments section to explain your vote.

What is your opinion of the death penalty in the United States?

See results

Comedian John Oliver makes the case against the death penalty.

The Book

Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate
Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate

This book, written by a nun, took me on a journey through the human consequences of capital punishment --the plight of the condemned, the rage of the bereaved, the effect on society.

You can also find many other books on this subject. Just click the button below.


© 2014 Catherine Giordano

Please comment with your thoughts on the issue.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Carol Booher: This comment tells me that the article I just wrote about Logical Fallacies is definitely needed. You have fallen victim to the logical fallacy of false choice. In fact, I gave an example of this fallacy in the article that is almost word for word what you just said in your comment. This is not an either or question.

      By the way, an "eye for an eye" is in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:24). Christian theologians say that The New Testament with its message of love and forgiveness supplants the Old Testament's focus on vengeance.

    • profile image

      Carol booher 

      2 years ago

      An eye for an eye is a good Bible vs also.. It depends on the circumstance, I would rather put a murderer to death than leave him to murder again, someone innocent.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      borge_009 I'm sorry to hear that the Philippines, like the United States, is so strongly in favor of the death penalty. It is horrendous that a country like the U.S.which calls itself an advanced nation can't move past this. Thanks for your comment.

    • borge_009 profile image


      2 years ago from Philippines

      We have the same dilemma in our country. We have identical views about the death penalty. I absolutely agree with you that the death penalty brings emptiness rather than closure to the victim or the victim's family.

      You may also check the article I had made.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Kathleen Callahan: Thank you for your comments about the death penalty. No other Western democracy has the death penalty. It is a disgrace that it is still used in the U.S. I hope you will enjoy being part of HubPages.

    • profile image

      Kathleen Callahan 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for this hub (I just now signed up with HubPages). I completely agree with you that the death penalty is immoral. I am sorry to say that I believe that America will be judged by God for all of its sins, or crimes, such as the death penalty, unjust wars, and legalized abortion.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Wendy L. Henderson; The Pope went to Congress and implored for the end of the death penalty. Will the United States finally join the vast majority of the world's nations and eliminate it. have you read my other death penalty article "Why Innocent People are on Death Row." The inequitable use of the death penalty and the killing of people who are innocent is a disgrace.

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 

      4 years ago from PA

      This is such a difficult subject. I am totally against the death penalty as it is killing another human being. But when it comes to some of these serial killers, I could see why people would want it. I think it is more of a punishment to make them live with their crimes. And justice will come when the person stands before their maker.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for your comment Annart. I still believe in abolishing the death penalty. He's just a stupid kid. Now the best he can hope for is a life in prison.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Yes, those families are amazing in their grief; I'm not sure I could do the same. I still believe the death penalty should be abolished everywhere.


    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      The senseless murders of good decent people in a SC church on Wednesday June 17, 2015 got me to thinking about the death penalty. If anybody ever deserved the death penalty it is Dylan Storm Roof who murdered nine people in cold blood with premeditation after spending a hour with them in Bible study because he hated black people. When I first heard about this, I was thinking no punishment is too harsh for him.

      But then I watched the families of the victims, one by one, look Roof in the eye as they struggled to contain their grief, and say that they forgave him. And I knew that the death penalty is immoral no matter how heinous the crime or the murderer. The families showed immense dignity and set an example for us all about how to hold to your moral ideals no matter how great the challenge.

      The family members of the victims are true heroes.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Steven R: I think Charles Manson was sentenced to life in prison.

    • profile image

      Steven R 

      4 years ago

      to be fair Charles Manson didn't kill anyone.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I also feel torn when I hear about murderers as vile as the one you write about in your comment. But then I remember that as long as there is a death penalty, there will be innocent people who will be killed by the state, Humans are fallible--we can never be 100% sure. (See my hub about "Why innocent People are on Death Row")

      I also remember that the death penalty is not about the one convicted-- it is about us as a society. It coarsens society. It cheapens life. It puts revenge ahead of mercy. It is natural to feel the urge to take revenge; but as civilized people we must overcome that urge.

      Lock the killer away and make sure he can never hurt anyone again. Have a special super secure facility for these savage killers and keep them away even from other prisoners.

      The Catholic church opposes the death penalty and so should everyone else, regardless of their religious beliefs, because it is immoral. (Read my hub "Thou Shall Not Kill. "

    • seraphic profile image


      5 years ago from Canada

      Great Hub! I live in Canada, we do not have the death penalty... as it turns out many people here such as David Milgaard He is a Canadian who was wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller. He was released and compensated after spending 23 years in prison.

      Now, if he would have been given the death penalty, there are no words to describe what people would have felt. As it is he is scarred for life.

      Honestly, I can say that I a torn between the death penalty for certain situations such as, the murder of innocent children, sexual abuse of children and serial killers (if 100% proven). There is no rehabilitation of these particular crimes as they are purely acts that are incomprehensible.

      I am not sure if you have done any reading about the Robert William "Willie" Pickton of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He was a former multi-millionaire pig farmer and serial killer convicted in 2007 of the second-degree murders of six women, but he killed many more.

      It was strongly suggested that he fed body parts of the murdered women to people in his pub and possibly sold their flesh to the market places in B.C., someone like that does not deserve to live off of the tax dollars of the Canadian people. I believe that the cost to keep one (1) inmate in prison excesses 80 thousand dollars a year.... too many of my fellow Canadians live in poverty on the streets and should be assisted. If it means removing a scum bag that has been PROVEN 100% to have killed people and or children, yes GOD would not want them running around spreading and creating more misery and possibly dropping their "VILE SEED."

      At times I am torn, but for those that kill without remorse and do it often to many do not have the right to live when 80,000.00 can feed many people and clothe many children... who otherwise may be murdered one day if those vile creatures ever get out.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Sanxuary: I promised to answer your questions about innocent people on death row. Yesterday, I posted "Innocent and on Death Row." You'll find the link on the right side of this page and also below the article where it says "Related Searches."

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I will write another article to answer these questions. "Why Innocent People are Sent to Death Row." Sometimes everyone just wants a conviction and they don't care if they get it wrong. In brief, as long as the death penalty is done by humans, there will be mistakes because humans make mistakes. Even when someone confesses, he might be innocent.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I think absolute certainty has to be achieved. What that would be has never been well defined. I am very puzzled how someone innocent ends up on death row. I can see a conviction on circumstantial evidence maybe but the death penalty would be questionable. In a way our system has many flaws such as double jeopardy and the fact that once you our convicted it can be just as hard to get out of jail. Still there are cases that leave me scratching my head. A convicted serial killer found with overwhelming evidence who would kill again if he was not locked up. Why are many of them not on death row and why keep them alive? Then we got some person on death row convicted on no evidence whatsoever $6. The person is simply there because they had the opportunity and they can find no one else to convict. If there was no statute of limitations and no double jeopardy, juries would probably be less inclined to convict on chance. In obvious cases I have no problem with the death penalty when the crime is murder.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you for your supportive comment. I could not have said it better myself. I liked what you said about why we should pity criminals. Killing people is , as you said, the wrong way to teach people a lesson.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      5 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      I also believe that death penalty should be abolished. Even though I also flee in emotions to teach a lesson to the criminals by hanging them, I realize my anguish and rethink. I am not American. But as human being, I support abolition of death penalty. We should treat them as mentally weak and ignorant helpless creatures and show pity on them and try to teach them and reform them.

      Moreover, we can not give life and similarly have no right to take the life.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      "Rethinking" is the nicest compliment I could get for this piece. People don't change their mind on this easily; all I hoped to do was nudge the needle a little and get people to think about the subject in a ne way. When I give my speech on this subject, I am either preaching to the choir or getting great hostility (People get really angry at me. They don't refute my facts; just yell at me. My thesis is obviously very threatening to them.) But then there are the few who say "I never thought of it like that before. You got me thinking." Thank you. I have met people who forgave the murderer. I hope that I am never in their situation, but if I am, I hope that I can be as good as they are.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Your express your views powerfully and offer us much to think about. I always think that family members of a murder victim are confused when they need another murder to make them feel better. We have some rethinking to do. Thanks for dealing with this important topic.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Iris, you have expressed your ideas (and mine) so eloquently. Whenever, I start to feel that someone "deserves to be executed," I think about how almost no other countries in the world have the death penalty. Do I want the U.S. to be in the company of China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Thank you for your comment.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 

      5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Catherine, you are a true writer, one that speaks their truth in spite of what it may cost. I applaud and stand with you. Voted up.

      To Ann's comment-I agree. It is so difficult to think of the horror that some of these people perpetrate on children and the innocent but when we step back from it, so many abusers were themselves abused. Victims become the victimizer in many cases. The U.S. has a double shame. We do not offer mental health care for all of our citizens and then when people go off the deep end and cannot overcome impulses on their own and do something horrible, we kill them as punishment. This is craziness.

      Dr. Billy makes a great point, some people cannot be rehabilitated and they "should" die but here's the thing, we must divorce ourselves from what others deserve and look at what our actions say about us. The practice of the death penalty speaks more to the mentality of those enforcing it than it does to the crime or criminal. We know they are broken (in the U.S. the reasons seem of little concern) so we shouldn't try to communicate with them on their level.

      I was acquainted with a victim of murder. Nothing will bring her back. No moral or fiscal argument can be made for the death penalty in this day and age. Kudos for bringing a difficult subject the the table.

      Ann and Dr. Billy, I hope my comments reflect respect for you both and an appreciation for the opportunity to engage in an important discussion. I wish you all well!

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I understand what you are saying. The ones in isolation are obviously the worst of the worse. On the other hand if you treat people like animals, you can't be surprised if they act like animals. But as my mother said, "Two wrongs don't make a right. " And some people do change in prison, and some innocent people are convicted and sentenced to death. Our system is not infallible as long as we have a death penalty, the state will kill innocent people.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      In the prison where I worked, there were people in isolation cells. All would kill you if they had a chance. You had to have a full security team and martial arts experts to open the cell door.

      There was no such thing as rehabilitation for these folks. They're all like Charles Manson who ripped the pregnant woman's gut open.

      Call it mental illness or whatever. I just never got the feeling that these animals should live after ruining the lives of so many people.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you so much. I am so appreciative when people praise, vote up, and share my hubs on controversial subjects. I'm always a little afraid I will get pilloried. I hope this hub gets people thinking.

      Like you when I hear of horrible crimes, my first thought is for revenge. It takes effort to be better than my basest instincts.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      An extremely well-presented hub, Catherine. I agree with you but sometimes I see horrific crimes against children and wonder if the perpetrator deserves to die. However, as you say, they are sick and some other way needs to be found to 'cure' them.

      I voted in your poll, even though I live in England, not the States. I don't believe anywhere should have the death penalty. Like you, I believe that 'Thou shalt not kill' applies to all of us, individual or state alike. Why should it be any different?

      Great hub, great argument, great philosophy.



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