SAMMARCO: The Death Penalty is Pro-Life

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Monday, August 19, 2019


Consensus in the pro-life movement is easy to find when it comes to issues such as abortion and euthanasia. Pro-lifers strongly oppose both of those acts as they inherently devalue and desanctify life, but many in the pro-life movement either stand in opposition to the death penalty or are on the fence about state-sponsored executions of murderers. Though it may seem paradoxical, the pro-life movement should embrace a death penalty as the sentence for those convicted of first-degree murder as it is the only penalty that adequately punishes the taking of a human life that results from murder and thus is the only penalty that recognizes the full value of human life. 

Bernard “Bernie” Madoff was a Wall Street financier sentenced to 150 years in federal prison in 2009 for swindling investors out of over $65 billion dollars through an elaborate Ponzi scheme. For almost three decades, Madoff took the money that people trusted him to invest and used it instead to live a life of luxury. Among the victims in Madoff’s scheme were small businesses forced to shut their doors for good and entire families that had their life’s savings wiped out overnight. Madoff even drained the Elie Wiesel Foundation’s investment accounts. He currently is incarcerated at Butner Correctional Complex in North Carolina where he will presumably spend the rest of his life—a harsh sentence that definitely fits the crimes he committed.

America’s system of justice strives to ensure that criminals are punished proportionately to the crime(s) they commit. This principle, known as the principle of lex talionis (translated from Latin as “the law of retaliation”), is the reason why we have an eighth amendment that protects a criminal from “cruel or unusual punishment”. We wouldn’t punish an 18-year-old that stole a candy bar from a 7/11 with the same severity or in the same manner as Bernie Madoff was punished. That would be by definition cruel and unusual. But what happens when the principle of lex talionis is violated by being too lenient in punishment?  

We can answer that question by examining the case of another criminal that was sentenced to the exact same length of time in prison as Bernie Madoff, Nathaniel White. White was sentenced to 150 years in New York prison for murdering six women in the 1990s. White’s serial killings began in 1991 with the murder of a pregnant woman in Middletown, New York. White drew the inspiration for his first murder from the movie “RoboCop 2.” White stated, “The first girl I killed was from a ‘RoboCop’ movie… I seen him cut somebody’s throat then take the knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and left the body in a certain position. With the first person I killed I did exactly what I saw in the movie.” White’s other victims included five other women that he either beat or stabbed to death. Most heinously, White stabbed a 14-year-old girl named Christine Klebb to death in 1992. 

As previously stated, White and Madoff were sentenced to the same amount of time in prison, 150 years. Both will live out the rest of their lives in prison. Both committed depraved crimes against individuals and society, but there is an obvious difference between the two convicts. 

 White filleted and beat five women and one child to death, Madoff stole from people. 

 The fact that both of these criminals received the same sentence for drastically different crimes is not only tacitly unfair, but it is a slap in the face to the principle of lex talionis. If one believes that the crime of murder is the most heinous crime a person can commit, then they must also certainly believe it should be punished in a manner substantially harsher than white-collar crime. Once a person can be punished with life in prison for lesser crimes than murder, the only punishment available that fulfills the requirements of lex talionis and treats murder as the most heinous crime is a sentence of death. 

 The pro-life movement fights for the fundamental right of each human being, born or unborn, to live, and endeavors to maintain the sanctity of life in our society. The pro-life movement also acknowledges, though, that the right to life is not absolute. 

The pro-life movement acknowledges the legitimate nature of killing in a just war, accepts the necessity of deadly force in self-defense, and many pro-lifers accept that those who murder others deserve a sentence of death. However, there exists a sect of the pro-life movement that is opposed to the death penalty for perfectly arguable reasons. The death penalty is costly, can take an innocent life by accident, and foremost in their view-the death penalty is the intentional taking of another human life. 

 That objection seems valid on face value, but the objection does not consider that a movement that fights for the preservation of the sanctity of human life should want to live in a society where murder is punished in a manner more severe than any other crime. As we have already seen, without the death penalty, the murder of six people can land you the same sentence as a swindler. Equating a loss of property with the loss of a life does nothing but devalue life, the polar opposite of the stated goal of the pro-life movement. 

 The death penalty is pro-life because It punishes murder in the only way consistent with the exceptional nature of the crime. It makes a distinction between the crime of ending a life and all other crimes-something that those who advocate for a more lenient sentence of life in prison for murder cannot claim to do. 

Nick Sammarco is a freshman economics major at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Besides politics, Nick is an avid Boston Red Sox fan. Nick plans to attend law school after college and enter the field of constitutional law.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Nick Sammarco

Suffolk University

Nick Sammarco is a freshman economics major at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Besides politics, Nick is an avid Boston Red Sox fan. Nick plans to attend law school after college and enter the field of constitutional law.

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