Ontario premier Ernie Eves has suggested Canada should resurrect the death penalty for some premeditated crimes against children and law enforcement officers. What does your faith teach about the death penalty?

The death penalty is contrary to the ethical philosophy of Buddhism. One of the basic principles of Buddhist spiritual training is to purify the mind of hatred and develop universal compassion. Thus the first moral precept of Buddhism is to abstain from killing living beings. The death penalty is obviously contrary to such a view of life.

A judicial system should be concerned about the well-being of all its citizens and so the restraint of those who are a danger to society is an important matter. From a Buddhist perspective, restraint, however, would not include the death penalty because that would be a step towards the brutalizing of our social ethos. If I am brutal and you use brutal methods to overcome me then you become brutal.

In my own readings on the subject, all the data indicate that the death penalty does not effectively deter murder. A surprisingly large number of Americans have been wrongly convicted of capital crimes. The death penalty is irreversible and the chances for error are significant. Finally, there is also the case for rehabilitation whose door should always remain open. Death is final and makes not allowance for error or remorse.

The dangers of re-offending can be more compassionately dealt with by making changes to the sentencing of offenders and changes to the parole mechanisms for various offences. To exterminate a human being who is safely restrained in prison would be contrary to the most basic Buddhist principles.

Ajahn Viradhammo

previous file citizen index next file

Valid HTML 4.01!