4 Aug 2009

Who'll Give the Life and Who'll Take it Away?

Not just another philosophical treatise

In one of the episodes of popular American drama series, Boston Legal, a Democrat lawyer (Alan Shore) takes a dig at his Republican colleague (Denny Crane) for his stand on capital punishment, "On one hand, you Republicans favour capital punishment and on the other hand, you call yourselves pro-life."

For those who are unable to comprehend this amusing statement, pro-life campaigners are the ones who favour criminalisation of abortion, as against the pro-choice campaigners who argue for the reproductive rights of the woman, i.e. her right to continue or terminate a pregnancy.

Curiously, while the Republicans view the foetuses and embryos as a person, hence argue for their right to life, they also argue for the continuance of capital punishment, which the Democrats find violative of the right to life of a person.

This is the paradoxy that I'll try to understand here and see where do I stand in these two debates.

If I try to see from the Republican perspective, somehow I can reconcile this paradoxy. The embryo and the foetus form the initial stages in the evolution of a human being, the starting point of the life. Embryo comes into the existence due to the act of someone else. So why should it be deprived of the opportunity to come out of the womb, into the world because of no fault of his/her! On the other hand, capital punishment is granted for an act committed by a person which has resulted in some serious loss to someone else. So, the culprit is liable for his/her grievous action.

I am a liberal, so how come I am upholding the conservative stand of Republicans! The truth is, there are no strict divisions on the two questions. The different viewpoints lie somewhere on an axis, where the so-called Republican and Democratic stands are the two ends. The question is of the degree.

I remember taking part in an extempore some years back where I had to speak in favour of the capital punishment. Luckily, my personal stand was in coherence to the task at stake and I emphatically declared, "If a person can take away someone's life, the State has the right to take away his/her life". Even today, I am pro-capital punishment but as it exists in India. According to the Indian Supreme Court ruling, capital punishment is reserved for the rarest of the rare cases.

On the other hand, I am against the use of capital pinishment as it exists in countries like China and Saudi Arabia where it has been employed as an instrument in the hands of the Communist Party and the Monarchy, respectively to quell any kind of resistance, hence leading to major human rights violations.

However, even in India, a lot of ambiguity lies in the usage of the term 'rarest of the rare', hence leading to different interpretations at different times. There is a need to form a stronger concensus on the types of cases that might fall under it and the types of safeguards that need to be employed to ensure consistency as well as prevent any innocent from being deprived of his/her right to life.

I can understand to some extent, the argument of those against capital punishment that a life-long imprisonment in jail is a harsher punishment for repenting a heinous crime like say, rape and murder of a minor, committed by someone than an instant punishment of death.

However, in Indian scenario, capital punishment is a must to handle issues like terrorism. Keeping the dreaded terrorists in jail for longer periods can act as an incentive for their accomplices to re-enact Kandahar like hijackings or other such operations.

While the issue of capital punishment has been there in debates in India for long, the abortion rights came into limelight just a year ago with the Niketa Mehta case in the Mumbai High Court.

Again the question is of degree. While the Indian law permits an abortion of a foetus upto 20 weeks old; in some western countries, its allowed upto 26 weeks. This upper limit has been decided keeping in mind the concern for the health of both the pregnant woman and the foetus. So, here one of the conflict is based upon deciding this upper limit.

In the immediate case, the foetus was 25 weeks old but had been diagnosed with congenital heart problem. Niketa Mehta moved the court for termination of her pregnancy. However, the court ruled against it exactly an year ago on Aug 4, 2008. Incidentally, she had a miscarriage soon after.

In such a case, where it is known, the child once born will be forced to lead a painful life, one may argue for the right of the mother to decide upon carrying the foetus or not, but in the Indian context, abortion is related to a major social problem of female foeticide too. Today states like Punjab and Haryana are having skewed sex ratios due to the misuse of ultrasound tests and selective gender abortions. Though such tests have been outlawed for long but still the misuse is on.

Hence, it is not easy to take any particular stand without looking at all these aspects. One cannot blindly adhere to pro-life or pro-choice perspective, nor can one totally discard or accept the capital punishment.

As, I say so often, things are not always black or white. Its important to identify the different shades of grey that lie within. However, a person must strive to recognise his distinct shade of grey rather than hopping from one blurry grey to another all the time. This post was an attempt to find my distinct shade of grey. Though I failed in this endeavour, I find myself closer to it. So while I keep trying, you too give it a thought!

The image relating to abortion might look insensitive to some of the readers. I'll like to apologise to them for the same.

Don't miss my latest review and recommendation of Frost/Nixon

Image Courtesy:

http://ash1973.files.wordpress.com and http://hyerstandard.com (edited)


Ava said...

Oh I used to love Boston Legal and especially the Alan Shore character. I wish they would keep showing the old seasons like they do with friends.

What you say is right. Each case is different and needs to be decided on its own merit. But the law is too intent on not 'setting a precedence' so it is reluctant to make any landmark rulings.

Siddhesh Kabe said...

I seriously counter the argument.. Abortion and capital punishment are two different issue altogether,

a quote from Batman: Bane of the demons, 'Punished for the sins of the father he never knew, condemned to life long imprisonment before his birth.'

While Capital Punishment is to be given to the person who has caused trouble to the society,
A tip from the ancients Greece, if a person commits horror (crime in ancient words) to the society, he is to...burned alive, stoned to death by the society.

Now, that is law ain't it?
As far as India is concerned, as long as we elect chickens on the top, more and more Kasab are gonna come in India (I comment only on capital punishment for terrorism, for other crimes I really have no views)

BK Chowla, said...

Vipul,in my opinion Abortion and capital punishment are absolutely different subjects. As for India is concerned the less said the better.History shows that we talk of capital punishment but allow the enemies of the state get away as part of appeasement policy.In fact we are not capable of discussing the subject of capital punishment.
Yes Boston, I miss it at times. Legal

Unknown said...

capital punishment and abortion.... Both are out of my knowledge....SO i think its not good or it is no use to comment and argue without having knowledge in the topic....

Meanwhile..waiting for blog-a-ton 1 result......

Vipul Grover said...

@avdiji.. boston legal.. well frnkly i'v jus watchd half a dozen episods this yr nd i luvd d show bt cudnt continue. i hop 2 gt d torrentz download frm sumwhere.

@sid.. hey, where r u countering my argumnt.. u r saying d same thing buddy!

Vipul Grover said...

@chowlaji.. yup, u r rite, d two things r'nt d same bt tht boston legal dialogue did make me think 4 sumtime at d similarity b/w d 2 issues.
As 4 appeasmnt policy, its sad.

@shankar.. buddy, do giv thm a thought.. thts why I put up sch posts:)

Unknown said...

I am a centrist.

The decision of abortion must be left to the individual. Only a pregnant woman can make the decision to have or not to have a child. For society to mandate that she give birth to a child she can not afford or does not wish to raise is nothing but another unwanted problem and I'd rather not go into that now. I think it's better for everyone to make their own decision on this matter. We do, after all, live in a democracy.

I support capital punishment and the only way I would be against it is IF we dropped every criminal convicted of the crime onto a vacant island that is at least a thousand miles away from any place and patrolled by a vessel with shoot to kill orders on anyone attempting an escape... they no longer deserve to be part of the society they preyed upon... I don't think my tax pennies should pay to keep murders alive for 30 years after they have been declared guilty. They didn't let their victims live, so why should we pay all this money for them to live??? I think murders, and rapists deserve the death penalty.

Vipul Grover said...

Right as far as capital punishmnt is cncrnd nd left as far as abortion goes.. taking an average, tht indeed makes u a centrist:)

well, nandhini don't overluk d fact tht india cnnot blindly import westrn terms like pro-choice nd pro-life.. in our country a particular gender is killed b4 it cn tak birth. hence particular safeguards r requird within abortion laws. apart frm tht, its true choice shud lie with d mother(rathr parents).

Bharathi said...

Regarding capital punishment in general I am against it. Every organism comes into this earth has a right to live and you cannot take it away. At the same time every person who benefits from this society is bound to adapt to the rules of it. If they don’t, the society has right to detach them. That’s what I think a society can do to the maximum. By society I mean government also.

To install order in the society, we may have to use capital punishment in India which have various terrorist threats. I would suggest using capital punishment based on the effect (if we let the criminal live) rather than the cause (misdeeds that he already committed).

Though I write this, I really don’t like this practical aspect. I want a society that respects each human being’s life and freedom.

Regarding abortion, I believe every human being has right to avoid getting pregnant. But I feel they should not abort for any reasons other than medical.

Vipul Grover said...

I blive um gting so diverse opinions.. ur stand is totaly opposite 2 nandhini's.. while u r left leaning as far as capital punishmnt, ur stand on abortion is right leaning.. wow.. sch diversity is possible only in india :)

IndianPundit said...

Hello Vipul
Excellent article.
Regarding abortion, i had a chat with a conservative American woman once, she told me that instead of abortion, the unwanted babies can be put up for ADOPTION.

Regarding , capital punishment i agree with SC order.

It must be awarded in case of "rarest of rare" cases.

Life imprisonment is certainly NOT as severe as "death by hanging".

IndianPundit said...

"On one hand, you Republicans favour capital punishment and on the other hand, you call yourselves pro-life."

Another one:-

Conservatives in USA calls themselves "pro-life" but supports "animal hunting", "guns" etc.

Unknown said...

I am ready to help u for blog-a-ton...buddy...

Vipul Grover said...

Hey IP welcum 2 my blog..
thnx 4 appreciating this post:)
u hv raised some vry importnt points here.. Its seems kind of stupid tht republicans hav no wrries for lives of human beings nd animals, hence supporting guns nd hunting.. nd on d othr hand crying 4 d lives of those who hav not evn takn birth.
As far as support for guns go, its due to heavy lobbying(read illegal funding) by National Rifle Association(NRA).. from here cums d support for hunting too bcoz thts d major consumption point for the guns of NRA affiliates.

IndianPundit said...

Hi Vipul

What do u think about this "adoption of unwanted babies" thingy.????

i guess its a workable alternative to abortion.

your thoughts??


Blogrolling u.

Vipul Grover said...

Hey thnx IP.. Well, thts an intrsting point again.
Ofcourse precaution is d most importnt thing here. As bharathi said above every human being has right to avoid getting pregnant. He continues But I feel they should not abort for any reasons other than medical. Ethically, I sort of support his second statmnt too.
Frm here I cn go back 2 d statmnt of the cnsrvative american u pointd out. the unwanted babies can be put up for ADOPTION.
Well both Bharathi nd this lady r supporting pro-life perspective bt still c theres sch a big gap..
While Bharathi wants ppl(not jus unmarried couple, evn married ones who dont want child bt conceive due to negligence) 2 accpt any mistakes they have done nd bring in2 d wrld nd care 4 their child, the american lady calls for abandoning tht very importnt duty.
Why I raised these two points is 2 show how the same term pro-life can have diffrnt meanings in diffrnt cultures. Similarly, it can have diffrnt implications in diffrnt societies.
In India, how many children get adopted? thr r very few. Some r lucky 2 stay in orphanages run by N.G.O's like missionaries of charity but other hav 2 stay in worse conditions. So is it better to put thm in orphanage to live misrable life or to not bring thm in2 d wrld at d frst place.
Seeing this scenario, on practical terms, I'll have to go with the latter one. In India, that american lady's stand is not feasible.
Um not sure if thts feasible in america too. U mst b aware of d fact tht thrs a vry large prevelance of teenage pregnancies in U.S. Most of these need 2 b abortd. now if all these girls r told 2 giv birth 2 their child nd put thm up 4 adoption, frm where will d prospective parents cum?
Hence, its easier said thn done.

Roshmi Sinha said...

Abortion and capital punishment are completely different issues.

In the Indian context, or for that matter, anywhere in the world... these will depend on the geo-political as well as the social aspects.

Vipul Grover said...

U r right, they r diffrnt nd need to be addressed depnding upon their ecological settings!
Bt still evn while being difrnt, thr seems 2 b an intrsting paradoxy in both left nd right stands which i elaborated in this post.

IndianPundit said...

Hi Vipul

Check out my latest post.


Gomathy S said...

Well.. though not related.. I remembered reading an incident that happened in the US,, a woman was killed & her embryo was taken out!! That was so just cruel..

Vipul Grover said...

hey daisy blue tht sounds gross bt its not totally irrelevant 2 d topic as u said..

googled it.. its d wrk of a maniac, a lady who cntactd this pregnant woman on net, wnt 2 her house on pretxt of buying a dog, strangled her, cut her womb nd tuk the child with his imbbilical cord still attached 2 him, to d hospital claiming tht she has payed 4 him..

if any1 wants 2 read about it, heres the link..

I cam across a discussion on this link wr ppl r arguing if d culprit shud b hangd or not.
A reader comments against a death penalty 4 this prsn despite this gross crime. According to d reader:
... [B]ut this women is obviously a sick and twisted human being. By killing her we as a country as [sic] acting out in a sick and inhumane manner. She needs help and supervision for life, not lethal injection.
thts a plausible stand indeed!