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My Turn | Dr. Wilton Bunch, M.D., Ph.D.

My Turn by Wilton H. Bunch

From The Birmingham News, November 13, 2005

The Birmingham News' editorial writers have taken a courageous position to oppose capital punishment in Alabama. Justice, fairness and consistency in an ethic of life all affirm this stand. As the father of a murdered daughter, I offer another supportive perspective.

It is impossible to overestimate the grief and pain caused by a murder. The victim's family is devastated. Every waking moment is consumed by memories of the loved one, the losses caused by the absence and the anger at the perpetrator.  It is only by God's grace that the family gets through the day and, even worse, through the night.

The presumed answer to this is "closure," but an execution does not bring closure.  Even if it could, it is not what the victim's family wants.  They do not want to close off their lost one; they do not want to forget the memories, to shut off their joys or to dismiss those "other times" that every family experiences.  They want to continue to experience the delight of picking up the telephone and hearing, "Hello dad, this is your favorite daughter."

What they want, and desperately need is closure of the overwhelming pain.  They want to ability to do their daily work, to be able to think about something other than their loss, to rejoin society.  This task will require the remainder of their lives.  The assistance and love of friends, as important as it is, cannot accomplish this.  The church and Holy Scripture provide assurance of the time when "all things will be made new," but this does not change the present reality.  Given that these good things from outside the family are inadequate, why should anyone think that an execution, hundreds of miles away and years later, should fulfill this need?  The use of "closure" as a justification for capital punishment is exceedingly overrated.

An execution does not give the family what they desire most earnestly: the return of the loved one.  There is no way to reach that end, and thinking that an execution is the means to contentment and happiness is a chimera and a delusion.  It is the imbalance between ends and means that makes capital punishment useless to the family; it does not accomplish what the victim's family really wants.

If an execution could produce return, every victim's family would be demanding an immediate killing.  If inflicting pain on the murderer would restore the victim, most families would support burning at the stake with wet wood or some similar horror. Injection with drugs would be much too gentle since no indecency would be too much to inflict if allowed the victim's return.  But such means will not produce the desired end.

An execution does not return the loved one; all it does it inflict the same losses on another family.  After an execution, another family has lost a loved one, even if they recognize him as their "black sheep."  Even murderers are loved by someone; real live human beings will mourn an execution.  Another killing simply does not provide what the victim's family desires most intensely, and it causes pain to other innocent families.

From my standpoint, capital punishment is a hoax.  It simply does not deliver the goods.

Wilton H. Bunch, M.D., Ph.D. is a professor of ethics at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.  His e-mail address is VMDWHB@aol.com





Ms. Esther Brown
P.O. Box 1362
Lanett, AL, 36863

Dear Ms. Brown,

I am pleased that you found my essay to resonate with your feelings and to be useful to you in your work. Signing your petition is the easiest thing I could ever do. I hope the fact that her murder was not in Alabama will not eliminate it from your program.

You mentioned understanding the pain of families of those who are executed. I received one e-mail from the wife of a man on death row. She said that my words were the kindest she had ever received. This just hit me like a rock. I shared this with my class on the day we discussed capital punishment and I told them no matter how they felt about the subject, here was a group of people who really needed their ministry.

Again, thank you for your letter and your good work.
Wilton H. Bunch, MD, PhD