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Can We Trust the Government with the Death Penalty?

Few issues draw as much passion as the death penalty.

People that are given this sentence are typically guilty of heinous crimes that literally get the public’s blood to boiling.

The deterrence argument – “at least we don’t have to worry about this guy committing more crimes” – is often applied in favor of such a sentence.

Opponents to the death penalty often site humanitarian concerns and plead for leniency in the form of life in prison.

Stephanie Slade of Reason.com brings up another angle to this issue that deserve attention:

Can we trust the government to fairly enforce such a policy?

Questionable Executions

Slade talks about the case of Scott Panetti in Texas.

Panetti is a convicted murderer that is about to be put to death; however, a significant body of evidence exists to indicate that he is truly mentally ill.

Nonetheless, the government is moving Panetti right through the system towards execution.

If he really is mentally unfit, how can they put him through a trial, let alone convict and execute him?

This situation reminds us of the extreme politicization of our state and federal governments, as well as of their inefficiencies and mismanagement.

It’s essential for us to ask:

How can government bureaucrats be trusted to make life-and-death decisions in the interest of justice?

What qualifies them as being competent to make such moral judgments?

Getting Insured on Death Row

From a life insurance point of view, the death penalty poses very interesting questions.

I have never had such a case, although a number of years ago I was able to help somebody sentenced to a year in prison obtain a policy.

If a man or woman was unfortunately on death row and needed coverage, here are some of the points I would need to address with underwriters:

  • It should be noted that somebody with a diagnosis of a terminal illness will have a very hard time obtaining coverage. At best, they would end up with a small burial policy. Would an insurance company consider a death sentence to be equal to a diagnosis of terminal illness?
  • What about all the stays and commutations that take place – would an underwriter conclude that the probability of the execution taking place is low, and therefore be more lenient in assessing the mortality risk?
  • Will the fact that somebody is in prison in the first place disqualify them from coverage? But since they are in isolation on death row and away from the general prison population, would that make a difference?