Who and why do we kill? – Rethinking the purpose of capital punishment for the execution of the mentally ill - Article by Salome Getahun

Apr 02, 2019

by Salome Getahun

The general existence of the death penalty by itself, without even linking it to mentally disordered offenders, constitutes one of the most controversial and highly disputed forms of punishment in today's society. It can be defined as "the deliberate, institutionalized taking of human life by the state", which at the same time constitutes "the greatest conceivable degradation to the dignity of the human personality".

The fact that most countries have repealed the death penalty in their domestic constitutions shows a general reluctance towards the use of this primitive form of punishment. Although still not prohibited in international law, one can speak of an increasing concession among intergovernmental organizations and states that the death penalty violates the value of human dignity and the right to life. This is supported by established international instruments aimed at the abolition, or at least limitation, of the death penalty, such as treaties and other resolutions adopted by UN bodies and intergovernmental organizations, e.g. Safeguard 1984 adopted by the Economic and Social Council to protect those facing execution.

Such protection is even more crucial and needed, when dealing with mentally disordered offenders, including those dealing with mental impairment, mental illness and insanity. Mental disorder is common among offenders. Defendants who are already ill from the beginning often become worse on death row, and even those who are sane and healthy upon arrival will eventually become sick due to the circumstances they face while awaiting their execution. Mentally disordered offenders constitute a very vulnerable group of people who, acoording to several mental health experts, "would never have made it to death row in the first place if they had been able to find treatment when they were free". This systematic failure should make us rethink not only the objective of the criminal justice system but also the purpose behind executing ill people. How we respond to such issues determines who we want to be as a society.

- Read the whole article here.