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Editorial: Moratorium against death

The Durham County Board of Commissioners urged the state General Assembly to institute a moratorium on state executions Monday. Although a moratorium on the death penalty may be a good start, and the commissioners should be commended for its stand against injustice, it does not go far enough. North Carolina should take a courageous stand and abolish the death penalty all together.

The problems with the death penalty are well-documented. Disproportionately, the poor and minorities are sentenced to death more often than wealthy or white prisoners, demonstrating there is an unacceptable racial and socioeconomic bias in the system. Nevertheless, it is a strong argument for a moratorium on the death penalty until these inequities are eliminated, since a punishment that is as final and irrevocable as death requires absolute impartiality and fairness.

The moral opposition to the death penalty arises from a deep-seated belief in the intrinsic rights of man to life, liberty and property, all of which are denied through capital punishment. Life, and its pursuit and affirmation, is the central value, the primary good, and capital punishment destroys life and all that accompanies it. This moral opposition is not based on any specific religious doctrine, although the religious beliefs of any number of religious ethical codes oppose to the death penalty. Moral objections to the death penalty also must not be based on changing societal norms and mores-it is fine if the current societal norm is that the death penalty is wrong, but it is irrelevant to the moral argument against the death penalty since if social norms changed tomorrow, the moral opposition to the death penalty remains. It is based in the single, unchanging value: the value of life.

The libertarian opposition that distrusts either the government's ability to apply the death penalty fairly or the government's right to execution is also a powerful argument. Although the government surely has powers beyond those of individuals (that is, the government may imprison people whereas individuals cannot) and the government has powers over life and death to some degree (for example, the government sends people to war), it is a fair question whether the government has the right to kill its own citizens when there are viable alternatives to immunizing the threat they pose. The government's ability to fairly and impartially apply the death penalty is also suspect, since the government's reliability is often in question.

For these primary reasons, not just a moratorium, but also an abolition of the death penalty is justified, and the Durham County Board of Commissioners should be praised for their stand on the issue and for voicing their opinion.


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