Both Dead Man Walking (Helen Prejean, C.S., 1995) and The right thing to do (James Rachels) expose both points of the death penalty issue and make the reader or viewer question his or her own moral reasoning. Each provides persuasive evidence to get the reader to favor one side over the other, though. Therefore, these have quite slanted opinions and are indeed morally biased. Though they do provide evidence to support both sides of the issue, I will provide examples to demonstrate how neither of these are fully impartial or objective.
For instance, this quote within The Right Thing to do shows absolute bias toward the end of this legal practice:
“…a mutually cooperative society can exist only if we adopt certain rules of behavior — rules that require telling the truth, keeping our promises, respecting one another’s lives and property and so on (Rachels, 2003).”
This conclusive quote, and the basis of the argument around it, poses more of a turn a blind to that legally tried-and-true inhumane, merciless, malicious murderer, instead of promoting the eye for an eye morality (appropriate punishment, or the belief that the punishment of a crime should equal the crime). Moreover, any human screened as rigorously by our federal legal system should not even be exposed to other inmates that can be rehabilitated. That inmate previously with death row credentials, but instead is allowed to live and kill another person, would be the one playing God from this point on. For instance, in a scenario where that death row inmate is released from prison and allowed into the masses where he could kill fifteen people at will would by the one playing God; the roles of the legal professionals trying to execute that prisoner and that death row inmate have switched.
A probability like that would not even take the deaths of a herd of humans to make a point — one person, one human life terminated at the hands of that previous death row inmate, would cause these legal professionals to rethink their stance. Also, what about that innocent person’s family who has been killed by the hands of an ex-inmate who should have been executed years prior? That inmate who bluffed his way out of or escapes from a fraudulent legal system that did not justly execute him? What if that inmate’s life were spared, and then he goes onto to murder a prison guard or other administrative prison worker, a person who is needed to keep criminals inline within the system? Another human being hired to amiably make sure these inmates play nicely with one another like children in a schoolyard? That irremediable behavior would both nullify the appropriate punishment or Biblical basis, and it undermines the exaggerated efforts demonstrated by the years of our federal legal historical decision making-process. Thus, this piece by Rachel’s is biased.
For another, in this focal film by Helen Prejean, in this quotation she tries to persuade the reader / viewer sensibly rather than morally. This next quote follows Prejean’s take on a combination of Ghandi’s and M.L. King, jr.’s views:
That, I believe, is what it’s going to take to abolish the death penalty in this country: we must persuade the American people that government killings are too costly for us, not only financially, but—more important—morally.
Since it will cost more to execute a death row inmate, our legal system should spare that immoral being’s life and put everyone at risk, purely for moral reasons. First off, this statement is not even fully focused. Therefore this statement is not convincing. Initially, it tries to be sensible, but then pulls more toward a reader’s or film viewer’s sense of obligation, like pity or guilt or camaraderie. This is fallacious logic and no point has been proven or even soundly probable.
On the sympathetic side, the Chamber by John Grisham, how Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman’s character, in the film) was only doing what he had become familiar with throughout life in his small southern town, rings a bell here. Matthew Poncelet and Sam Cayhall have commonalities. These death row inmates, for one, realized nothing other than arrogant, sexist, and racist behaviors. They grew up and have lived in a world of hate. This is pitiable, so I as a grounded human believe that there must be some rehabilitation that can fix these two; they are people, too. Then again, they are not worthy of society. Humans are social mammals; unfortunately, we need to moderate the behaviors of all individuals for our survival alongside the collective advancement of humanity.
Then I realize that these people are on death row for reasons and malignant behaviors unfathomable to me. Moreover, these actions are unreasonable to the rest of the community as a whole, a complete violation to that community. When I look into the grounded legal basis for the seemingly merciless act that the death penalty appears, I see that it is based completely on a methodology of logic over emotions. Sure, as humans we initially react, then convince ourselves that we reason, emotionally. Only after that emotional reaction do we reason logically.
That is what our legal system is for, and that is why the United States legal system is second to none. Therefore, regarding the death penalty, I support our legal system more than anyone’s (including my own) initial emotional persuasion. I know that I am one individual, in a system of millions of other individuals, that builds toward the perfect collective being everyday. I have complete trust and faith in every part of this progressive system (except, of course, for sidelined criminals, including those on death row).
Prejean, Helen C.S. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. Random House (1993)
Dead Man Walking film: Tim Robbins, director (1995)
Rachels J. The Right Thing To Do, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill (2003).
Rachels, James. The right thing to do: basic readings in moral philosophy. Publisher: Boston: McGraw-Hill (1999)