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Jewish World Review June 20, 2000 / 73 Sivan, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

George W's life-and-death issue --
GEORGE W. BUSH is under assault from certain quarters for his position on the death penalty. New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, who favors the death penalty for unborn babies at all stages, has called Bush "shallow and callous'' for his alleged indifference to the way capital punishment is administered in Texas. Lewis is concerned that, during Bush's five years as governor, 131 prisoners have been executed, including a few represented by court-appointed counsel who slept through portions of the trial or otherwise were disconnected from the procedure. Bush recently postponed the execution of one convicted killer while DNA evidence is more closely examined.

Who could oppose the application of technology to preserve innocent life? If DNA can prove that a person convicted of murder is, in fact, not guilty, that is a tool the courts and the public will welcome. The problem is that DNA rarely is the sole determinant of guilt or innocence in capital crimes. There is other evidence, including witnesses, fingerprints, motive and opportunity. The objective of many who invoke DNA as decisive in criminal cases is not to prove guilt beyond all doubt so that the death penalty will be administered more justly and fairly. Rather, it is to undercut the overwhelming public approval of capital punishment in order to again outlaw it as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

The problem for many critics of Bush is that they appeal to a standard to save the guilty that they have denied in their opposition to laws that would preserve the life of the innocent. They also appeal to technology as a means of saving lives of the accused, but dismiss the evidence technology provides concerning the unborn. One cannot separate life into categories and claim legal and moral protection for one kind -- especially when a person has been convicted of murdering an innocent human being -- and oppose legal protection for other categories. Either all of life has value, and that value is determined by something or someone outside of the reach of humankind, or all of it is up for grabs according to the whims of the culture in which humans happen to be living at a given moment.

How can opponents of the death penalty who favor "choice'' when it comes to abortion reconcile their conflicting positions? They claim that a ban on partial-birth abortion is the first step toward eliminating all abortions. Don't they have the same strategy in using DNA testing as a first step toward ending all capital punishment?

Once, this inconsistency was reversed. More than a century ago, the Supreme Court, which now denies protection to unborn life, denied protection to born life when the color of the human skin was darker than that of the majority. As with the unborn today, the Supreme Court then could not argue that the persons to whom they were denying rights looked human in every respect, so they had to claim African slaves were not "fully'' human. With the unborn, the modern Court has said much the same, declaring developing humans not "persons.'' What's the moral, even legal difference? To reverse the former decision, a Civil War was fought. The outcome of our own struggle over life and death has yet to be determined.

As for the moral question, to what standard do death-penalty opponents appeal when they ask proponents to be appalled over capital punishment but indifferent or even supportive of abortion on demand? Would death penalty opponents be willing to make a trade? Would they support laws again defending the right of the unborn to live if people who favor capital punishment accepted their view and did away with the death penalty? Of course they would not. Which is why George W. Bush should pledge to attend to any flaws in the criminal justice system in Texas and as president, but he should not amend his position on the correctness of capital punishment, because it is just deserts for those who illegally rob the endowed, inalienable right to life of another human being.

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