Sorry I’m late getting to this, Jonah. I think the “acceptable risk” analogy re: the death penalty doesn’t persuade. We don’t have a reasonable alternative to arming the police and giving them the authority to use deadly force. So we have to allow for the fact that mistakes will happen. Same with cars: the social good (by now a necessity) brought about by the existence of automobiles outweighs the inevitable deaths brought about by same. With the death penalty, we do have a reasonable alternative to putting convicted killers to death. We could incarcerate them for life, without benefit of parole, in a supermax prison (by the way, an NRO reader who has spent years doing lay prison ministry on death row at Angola tells me that most people don’t realize how hard life on death row really is). Is the social good accomplished by executing convicted murderers that much better than imprisoning them for life? Is it so good that it’s worth risking the state-sanctioned murder of an innocent man? I don’t see that it is.
Ramesh’s questions, though, are forcing me to examine my anti-d.p. thinking, and leading me to see that I probably buy more of the moral argument against the d.p. than I’d like to admit to myself. I think one reason I resist the argument made by the Pope and others [that the d.p. violates the sacredness of human life] is that I can’t stand to see these people go on and on about the poor prisoner, but have very little evident concern for the pain their victim(s) and the victims’ loved ones feel. That’s not a reason, I admit, but it’s what’s in my gut, and I struggle with it.