Digest of terms

capital punishment

the death penalty has been exercised as punishment throughout history and across civilisations, but with varying degree of control. Until recent times, the most common means were burning, hanging, poison, stabbing, stoning, or strangulation; the guillotine, electric chair and lethal injection are merely modern variants. For the most part religious traditions, like non-religious world views, have accepted the legality and morality of the community or state taking someone's life if their words and deeds are judged sufficiently wrong and threatening to the communal good. It may be that belief in an afterlife - whether reincarnation or resurrection - makes the imposition easier, since death itself is not seen as a final end. There is evidence of a recurrent tension between a readiness to mutilate the corpse of one judged guilty and a desire to ensure a humane death. In more recent times, from within the Christian tradition in particular the forgiveness strand has been invoked against the taking of another's life, however heinous their actions.

The development and strengthening of international law in the last half century has brought about a wider insistence on the need for national courts to follow due process in trials and the imposition of punishments. More significantly, opposition to capital punishment has grown very substantially. It is opposed by all member countries of the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called for its abolition. This has yet to happen in at least parts of each of the world's four most populous countries: China, India, Malaysia and the USA. Arguments in support of capital punishment include both retribution and deterrence as mainstream components of theories of punishment.

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