The question of the death penalty has a wider extent than just the use of it as a way of penalisation. It has at its largest extent to do with the ground stones of democracy, and the views on human value, that comes with democracy.
People become violent or wicked as a result of circumstance. Democratic values would, as far as I can interpret, say that all people should be viewed as having the potential to change. The death penalty is not consistent with that line of thought. A death penalty is final. Whoever is killed has forever lost the chance to change and the chance to better him-/herself. He/she has also forever lost the chance to somehow compensate or justify his or her deed.
I would further like to question whether the general juridical awareness of a people is to be considered in the matter of decisions regarding the use of death penalty. Should for example a people of which 9 percent wants to allow corporal punishment of children, while 33 percent thinks the death penalty can be allowed, be allowed to decide in questions concerning the matter? I don’t think so. It is very much a matter of awareness and education I think. This is why, in my view, the legislative body has a superior task in this as to actually educate, or maybe even tame, the consciousness of the public what concerns the use of the death penalty.
The balance between the people and the state is of course a delicate matter when it comes to questions of democracy; and declaring the majority incompetent would be against democratic principles. It is obvious to me though, what concerns the death penalty, that the principle of majority might not be one to safeguard democratic principles. I think the principals of democracy always must outweigh the principal of majority. The latter is really just a technical question of administration, and not as many people seem to think the fundamental principle of democracy.
History has shown that leniency towards matters of life and death can have horrendous consequences. If a principle concerning the sanctity of life can do anything, if only in the least, to counteract such circumstances, it will be worth maintaining; a view that would subsequently very much depreciate the utilitarian view of the death penalty working as a deterrent.
Here follows an extract from George Orwells essay A Hanging, Adelphi 1931
It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working – bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming – all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned – reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less.