The Meaning of Death

Coincidentally, death and the philosophical meaning behind it has been sprouting up lately. Is death mercy or is it punishment? Does someone deserve to die? What qualifies a person to be designated as one of those people? Does the method of death have anything to do with it? What are the criterion for an appropriate death?

My kids and I have been watching Dexter, a Showtime series involving a criminal pathologist by day, and a serial killer by night. He justifies his murders by identifying his intended victims as murderers through DNA evidence, subsequently committing a service to society by eliminating them completely from existence. Unfortunately, he has had a few slip-ups, killing the wrong dude (oops!) and is eventually discovered by the people in his life that he values the most (and to value relationships is a struggle for a sociopath).

The philosophical question that I want to present here is: When is death mercy and when is it punishment? Can such a profound act be simplified under any circumstance?

Dexter successfully rationalized his murderous actions, yet ultimately, he hurt the people that were most important to him with these actions.

Indeed, Dexter is a murderer, and he is fictional. In the real world, if anyone is killing, it’s a crime, right? Conviction by execution is legal in the United States and some states carry it out more frequently than others. This type of killing is ok, right? In concept I believe in execution for brutal murderers who would otherwise be spending a lifetime in the prison system, being financially supported by myself and my other struggling middle class society members. However, there is so much more to it than just ending a life. Who qualifies? How should it be done? Do we understand that, although some of the people left behind will feel relieved, others will have tremendous regret and guilt for the rest of their lives? (because we really don’t exactly know how the murderer reached the mental and emotional point to be capable of killing, do we?)

The state of Ohio just attempted a new drug combination to carry out it’s latest execution. It failed to bring death to the inmate for 25 minutes. In the interim the family of his victims watched him gasp for air, and his innocent children watched him gasp for air. He committed a gruesome act and that can’t be negated for a second. There was DNA evidence and a confession confirming that he was the perpetrator, so there was no doubt of his guilt. However, this death will haunt the family of the victim (who had told him that they forgive him) as well as his family (who, I remind you, did not commit the crime). This was certainly a punishment not just applied to him, but to his children and the children of the victim. If he were to spend a lifetime in prison, these peripheral sufferers would accept his punishment as appropriate to the crime and wouldn’t be personally traumatized as they had been under this circumstance.

Also, the makers of phenobarbital, the drug used to euthanize animals, and the drug previously used for executions in Ohio, refused to approve its use for executions going forward, so the state of Ohio had to find an alternative method of ending the lives of these death row inmates. Reading about the dreadful results of the replacement, I wonder if the person signing off on the refusal has any regrets or guilt. If it had been allowed, the execution would have occurred peacefully and quickly, as it had been in the past.

Ultimately, death affects the universe in a much deeper way than anyone can conceive. It would be unwise to think that deliberately ending the life of a human being will impact a singular space in reality, when the energy that emanates from death spreads far into the celestial space of others.

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