I’d like to offer a simple proposal that, if enacted, could generate a great deal of a most precious resource: moral clarity.
It concerns the death penalty.
Opponents of capital punishment for murderers argue that the state has no right to take a murderer’s life. Apparently, one fact that abolitionists forget or overlook is that the state is acting on behalf of the murdered person and the murdered person’s family, not only on behalf of society.
In order to make this as clear as possible, here is my proposal: Americans should be able to declare what they want the state to do on their behalf if they are murdered. Those who wish the state to keep their murderer alive for all of his natural years should wear, let us say, a green bracelet and/or place a green dot on their driver’s license or license plate. And those who want their convicted murderer put to death can wear a red bracelet and/or have a red dot on their license.
Just as I have a pink “donor” circle on my driver’s license signifying that in case I die, I wish to provide my organs to help keep some person alive, I wish to make it known that if I am murdered, I do not want my murderer kept alive a day longer than legally necessary.
There are a number of reasons for recommending such a policy.
First, as noted, it is clarifying for the individual. It is easier to take a position in the abstract than when it hits home. It is one thing to oppose the death penalty when others are killed, but if you have to decide what happens if it is you who is murdered, the mind focuses with greater clarity.
Before deciding which color to choose, let a woman imagine herself raped and then stabbed to death. And let her further imagine that if this happened to her, she now has some say in determining what happens to the person who did this to her. She is no longer a silent corpse. Her voice will be heard, perhaps even be determinative of her killer’s fate.
Likewise, the woman who truly opposes death for any murderer, no matter how heinous and sadistic his actions, will also now have the ability to speak from the grave. No matter how much her family may seek the death penalty, family members will have no say. Any woman — or man — who passionately opposes the death penalty under every conceivable circumstance can now help to ensure that at least in his or her case, a murderer’s life that might have been taken might now be preserved. There is no more direct way to give death-penalty abolitionists the right to have a say over the fate of a murderer.
Second, such a choice gives great power to the individual. Abolitionists who live in pro-death-penalty Texas, for example, can now have a say on a matter of enormous moral magnitude.
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