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The Ethical Debate over the Death Penalty for Child Rapists

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The problem of child rape is a serious problem in the United States today. The lost innocence resulting from the rape of a child is situation that moves the heart of the nation. Many call out for the execution of rapists who prey upon the youth in this country. Society has become so distraught and infuriated by the rape of children that it is willing to re-classify rape of children as a death row offense, a punishment otherwise reserved for loss of life or treason. A question of ethics arises from this issue: should capital punishment be used as a deterrent and punishment for a crime which does not result in loss of life. The courtroom workgroup of judges and attorneys have reviewed and challenged existing laws. Society continues to debate the issue over whether capital punishment is the correct response for the crime.

I. Introducing the Death Penalty

Historically, the propensity to use capital punishment as a form of punishment has been high. Mankind has always been driven to counter acts of aggression against them or their families with the mindset of retaliation. While the age old retributivist philosophy of "eye for an eye" is the basis of law and punishment, it was also devised in a more uncivilized and barbaric time. Society has evolved as an ethical and moral people to the point where there are alternatives to taking of a person's life in order to seek justice. As mans' sensibility evolved along with his genome, so did the thought that not all wrongs committed against another deserved the punishment of death.

One of the earliest recorded retributivists, Babylonian ruler Hammurabi (1750 B.C.), addressed the death penalty as punishment for offenses. He was considered "the great law giver" due to the twenty-five rules governing which offenses constituted capital punishment. In this time period the threat of losing one's life for wronging another kept the people in check. Hammurabi's Laws were very strict utilizing capital punishment for many offenses. The enforced of these laws was strict in order to keep the peace. This resulted in innocent people sometimes receiving death for crimes that today would be considered misdemeanors. Capital punishment was even addressed in the Hebrew Bible within the Book of Leviticus," If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death." While these laws and guidelines were laid out thousands of years ago for a more barbarous time, they are not ethically applicable in the modern United States of America.

II. Arguments Against Capital Punishment

Capital punishment began losing its foothold as an ethical response to crime control. New York abolished the death penalty as an acceptable form of punishment in 1835. This was followed by Michigan in 1841. David Savage (2008) noted even though the death penalty had been restored as a form of capital punishment for murder in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court stated in 1977 that utilization of capital punishment for rape was both cruel and unusual. Savage also mentions the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) which involves Patrick Kennedy being sentenced to die for the rape of his 8-year old stepdaughter. This case sparked much outrage from the public against Kennedy and insisted the courts respond with the harshest sentence: death. However, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and reversed the decision when it agreed with Kennedy's lawyers that the death penalty was in violation of the Eight Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment restriction. Morally, by allowing offenders to receive the death penalty society is lowering its level to that of any other murderer. The only difference is that society says it is dealing out the death penalty as a form of deterrence and retribution. An ethically and morally evolved people should be able to find alternative forms of punishment.

Clair Finkelstein (2002) points to Kant's moral equivalence approach as the basis for a more modern humane approach to addressing the issue. There is simple elegance in the statement she



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