[Buddha-l] Ethical Dilemmas and Death Penaltiesandmaliciouszombies for governor.

Stefan Detrez stefan.detrez at gmail.com
Tue Jun 15 01:56:16 MDT 2010

Dear Dan,

> > I
> > wrote a letter to Amnesty International with the question what they think
> > of
> > a 'voluntary death penalty' - meaning you either do the life sentence or
> > voluntarily opt for the death penaly - and they replied they have no
> > position on this issue. A voluntary death penalty respects both a
> person's
> > rights and a government's right to punish a criminal. So, what's the
> deal?
> Interesting attempt at a middle road, Stefan.
> Opponents of the death penalty will offer a range of objections, from (i)
> anyone who would choose death is suicidal, and hence not sane, and hence
> not
> competent to make such decisions, to (ii) the State has no right to execute
> anyone, no matter what that individual might want at the moment.
Not sane? Would they carry the same reasoning to euthanasia? Here in Belgium
it is respected, at least by law, to sign a paper saying you don't want to
go through the suffering of decaying and that you're prepared to be put to
death with medical assistance. Erik can confirm this legality for the
Netherlands. Minors too have this right now. Few folks would consider you
sane if you wanted to go all the way to death with all the pain.

Of course the State has the right to execute persons: triggerhappy gangsters
are shot when they pose a threat to society and killing a person in a
serious and life threatening situation is excused too. The Police don't go
asking a would-be murderer if he or she is ok with being shot to death. If
one can avoid more suffering, putting one person to death is warranted
according to the utilitarian calculus. But so too from a Kantian point of
view: if everyone around the world would put to death a person who has
killed for the wrong reasons the world would be a better place. But I
suppose the reasons advanced by utilitarians and deontologists need

> Proponents of the death penalty will object that leaving such things to the
> discretion of someone deserving of capital punishment is an affront to
> justice; the guilty party relinquished the right to make such decisions
> when
> they committed murder (or whatever the capital offense).
Justice is served when he is locked behind bars. If that person would like
to undergo euthanasia, would they stop him? If he still has human rights in
prison, they'll want to honour his choice to want to die, I should think.

Perhaps someone with a "kavorkian, inc" tray can scuttle up and down the row
> of cells looking for takers or selling cyanide candy?
> As is well known, Buddha apparently condoned suicides on occasion.
On occasion? That leaves room for non-condoning. And I'm not sure the
Buddha's social reality has the same complexity as ours, so I think it would
be wise to leave some of his decesions for his own age and refrain from
'recontextualizing.' To refrain from killing or harming as a precept is
vague enough to exclude taking one's life, and I explicitly think of Thich
Quang Duc and Jaina Santhara. Some Jataka stories present self sacrifice as
a noble thing too. Being alive might not be so holy after all.


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