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Society's Right to Kill

Men of good will recognize it to be incontestably true that we are our brother's keepers, and one man cannot be abandoned and sacrificed upon the altar of society's sometimes unreasonable demands without disturbing all mankind. There was a time when society thought that criminals should be beheaded, burned, boiled or buried alive; when men were strangled, stoned or starved to death; when they were forced to drink poison, crucified, or drowned; when they were eaten alive by snakes or lions, all of this in the name of justice and all because it was "the law of the state".
As odious and savage as these practices sound us today, let's face the fact that electrocution will be listed as another barbarous, cruel uncivilized punishment. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, 19,000 Englishmen were executed but the crime rate continued to rise.
During the reign of Henry VIII, 72,000 Englishmen were executed; this however did not seem to deter Englishmen from committing crimes.
Peter I, tsar of Russia, in 1728 put to death 8,000 Russians because they were wearing beards, and yet today we can hardly think of a Russian without a beard.
To me, one of the most compelling arguments against capital punishment is the possibility of mistake. So many times have the innocent been mistakenly convicted or wrongly convicted. Now I am going to give you a full description of how the state kills a man: at about 5:30 in the afternoon of the eve of the execution, the prisoner is shaved, bathed. He must be clean so that it is unnecessary to bathe his body after the electrocution.
Then they give him a new shirt and a new pair of pants, without a belt and shoes without laces.
Next a priest of his choice visits him to offer whatever words of assurance. Then the condemned man is given an opportunity to eat some good meal of his choice. Then his family is permitted to visit him until midnight. And in the morning he is placed in the electric chair and killed.

Adapted from Joe W. Henry, Jr.


To behead: to cut the head
To deter: to prevent
The eve: the day before
Altar: autel


1. What is the apparent difference that exists between how people were put to death in the past and now?
2. Can we say, according to the text that the tradition of capital punishment through the centuries had really an impact on people?
3. What element causes the author to be against capital punishment?
4. Why isn't the prisoner given any belt or laces among the clothes he receives before the execution?
5. Do you personally think that capital punishment should be suppressed? Justify your answer.
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