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The death penalty should be abolished in the United States because it embodies the most savage and barbaric instincts of mankind and runs counter to the basic ethical values of Western civilization, because it serves no useful purpose in deterring violent crime and because it has been applied by a flawed criminal justice system to discriminate unfairly against racial and other minorities and to undermine the presumption of innocence.

Moral and Cultural Arguments Against Capital Punishment

Reverence for the sanctity of human life lies at the heart of all the world's great religions, and finds expression in the Biblical injunction, 'thou shalt not kill,' except in defense of self or others, such as in just wars. However, Biblical justification for the death penalty can also be found in Genesis 9:3: 'if anyone sheds the blood of man, by man his blood shall be shed.' For many centuries, this vengeance-based tradition of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life, the Roman lex talionis, prevailed in Western legal systems. According to Bedau (1982) as late as 1819, more than 200 crimes, including many petty offenses such as pickpocketing, were capital crimes (p. 8).

The Enlightenment and the spread of subsequent liberal philosophy led to the progressive elimination of the death penalty throughout almost all of the developed and non-communist world in the 20th century, except for the United States. First, the Scandinavian nations and the Low Countries, then Germany (1949), Britain (1965), Austria (1968), France (1981) and finally all the other developed non-communist nations in Europe, Canada and Japan abolished the death penalty, except in some cases for a narrow range of crimes against the state. In 1983, the death penalty was abolished under Article 1 of the sixth Protocol of the European Covenant on the Protection of Human Rights and the Protection of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. According to Meg...

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