Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Cursed Are the Handicapped?

I just read that the judge sentenced Scott Peterson to die for his crimes. I’m against the death penalty in virtually all cases. But I don’t wish to explore that theme here. I just want to note that the judge said that Peterson’s acted in a "cruel, uncaring, heartless, and callous" manner. In other words, the judge seemed to be saying, it wasn’t the objective nature of the crimes themselves that justified Peterson’s death sentence, but Peterson’s subjective state-of-mind.

But what is the rationale for this? If Peterson is, as many have argued, sociopathically lacking in normal human conscience, this might make him beyond rehabilitation by current psychotherapeutic methods, but since the judge’s sentencing choice was between lethal injection and life in prison without possibility of parole, what difference does it make if there’s no reasonable expectation that Peterson could be sufficiently rehabilitated to re-enter society? And is there compelling reason to believe that Peterson’s sociopathy makes him a significant threat to other prisoners? I suspect that the threat posed is entirely TO rather than FROM Peterson.

So, it seems to me that the message the judge sent to society is that we kill people for being sick or crippled with a lack of conscience. We wouldn’t think of killing someone because they can’t see or hear, but we think it’s perfectly okay to kill someone because they can’t feel normal human regard for life and normal guilt and shame for taking it.

Someone might protest that we wouldn’t execute someone for being blind or deaf because, after all, they haven’t murdered anyone, and we won’t be executing Peterson for not having a conscience, but for killing his innocent wife and unborn child. But what if he murdered his wife and unborn child precisely because he had no conscience? What if his cold-blooded and remorseless actions were symptoms of illness or products of a psychological defect? What's more, if the judge would have spared Peterson's life had he exhibited more of a conscience, wasn't his lack of conscience the decisive factor in his sentencing?

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