A couple of nights ago, I had an interesting dinner-time conversation with Mia on the topic of capital punishment. It all started with the case of the guy who murdered the girlI think it happened in Menggatal (yes, to the West Malaysian friends, that is really a name of a place here in Sabah). Well, Mia said that the fellow has been found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
At first I merely said, "Well, if he really did it, I suppose he deserves the punishment lah."
Then we talked about other forms of capital punishments, i.e. the lethal injection, electricution, poison gas chamber etc. Well, I'm not trained in the legal profession, and I know hardly anything about these punishments. But if I'm not wrong, many of them have been abolished. In fact, I don't know if they have ever been used here in Malaysia.
Now, when a criminal has been found guilty and is given the death penalty, does it make any difference how he is executed? Whether he dies of the hangman's noose or the lethal injection or the firing squad, in the end the objective is to execute him. The point is he ends up dead anyway. The end result is the same, but the methods adopted leading to that end are different in a few ways. Does it not make sense that we keep things simple and give the criminal, say, sleeping pills in large doses so that he will peacefully fall into deep slumber and die without actually suffering a lot of pain?
But our punishment system is not like that at all. It seems that we want the criminal to suffer first before he dies. I think the most striking factor is the pain that the criminal has to suffer; and the duration of that pain before his death. It is in this sense that I feel we are playing God to a fellow human. Not only are we assuming the right to killalbeit legallya human, but we also decide on the manner in which he dies. We want so much for him to suffer; to experience the anxiety; the fear of death etc. And it is here that I feel we're giving rein to our vengeful instinct against those who have wronged us.
We are not willing to let the fellow off the hook so easilywe want him to pay for what he did. And paying with his life alone isn't good enough! He must suffer first! And then I suppose at the end of it all, we are happier that he suffered the torture before his death; we have satisfied our vengeful instinct.