There is a difference between cost and value. Cost is how much you pay for an item. This may be tangible, such as the $2.50 for your Starbucks coffee, or intangible, such as what you would have spent with that $2.50 instead of picking up your double-mochaccino-half-caf-with-foam. Value is what you are willing to pay for an item. Thus, people are only willing to buy something if the cost is equal to or less than their personal value of that item. If you value that hot dose of zing juice more than the $2.50 cost, you will stand in line, pony up the money, and head out with caffeinated cheerfulness.
But let’s stop looking at this from an Econ 101 perspective and bring it into the real world. A parent understands value and cost instinctively when he or she creates a punishment for misbehavior. The child then weighs his or her options: do I value putting ants in my sister’s Cheerios more than the cost of having my butt waxed by a 2×4-wielding dad? For most kids, the cost of the punishment is higher than their perceived value of misbehavior, and Dad is spared the call from Child Protective Services asking him to explain the suspicious bruises on Junior’s backside. The scary thing, at least to a parent, is when the child decides, “You know, the punishment is a pain, but I’d rather behave badly and pay the price than give up what I want to do.”
All crime has an associated cost. If Chris Criminal commits a particular crime twice and is caught each time, it is obvious he values the commission of the crime more than the possible cost of punishment. A criminal who has a rap sheet as long as your arm is someone who obviously values committing crimes far over the cost society can dole out. If Chris Criminal kills someone and is thrown in jail, we can see what value society places on the life of his victim based on the sentence Chris is given. Based on a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, society valued the average victim’s life at eight years of incarceration in 1981 to 14 years in 1995. That is the cost of a slain human soul in the United States–fourteen years. Life was valued even cheaper in England during these same years, with a murderer serving an average of five years in 1981 to eight years in 1995. With costs like these, is it any wonder that some criminals choose to kill again?
I believe in the death penalty for murder–not out of a need for revenge, nor because I particularly want to punish the criminal, although punishment is a valid response to a crime of this nature. Rather, I am in favor of capital punishment for two primary reasons. First, someone who commits a crime worthy of capital punishment is a menace to others, and society has the responsibility to protect its people by removing this kind of violent offender permanently. While serving as a juror in a capital punishment case, I was asked if I would favor life imprisonment with no chance for parole as a sufficient means of removing that criminal from society and preventing him from causing harm to others. My response was that, even in prison, he would still have access to other inmates and guards, and that he had already proven through his acts that he was a menace to the people around him. Second, I support capital punishment because I value human life so highly. This may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. I value the life of a victim greater than the eight to 14 years of imprisonment that society imposes on a killer. If a man knew, without a doubt, that killing his wife and unborn son would result in his death–not might, but WOULD result in his death and quickly–then perhaps Laci and Connor Peterson would still be alive today. Scott Peterson clearly valued returning to bachelorhood in the arms of Amber Frey more than he valued the life of his wife and unborn child. Anyone who could make such a cold-blooded calculation is worthy of being removed from society in a way that makes it impossible for him to re-enter it and harm anyone else.
Scott Peterson’s impending death also serves the purpose of deterring other Peterson-wannabes, reminding them that the price for committing murder is a long wait on death row, followed by a sudden shock or a big sleep at the end. Some opponents of capital punishment pooh-pooh the notion of deterrence, saying that it is impossible to prove that capital punishment keeps people from committing crime, since you can’t prove you stopped something from happening when it didn’t happen. But it’s hard to argue against this fact: when Scott Peterson is dead, he will be permanently deterred from murdering anyone else.
If our society truly values individual life highly, then someone who commits murder and deprives others of life cannot be treated lightly by society.
This casual disregard for the value of human life is evident in the daily news. On December 5, Kathy Feaganes Allen made a U-turn and ran down some teens who had accidentally hit her car with a golf ball. There was no damage to her car, but the kids most definitely suffered damage. This was not the action of someone who lost control of her vehicle; Allen willfully turned, accelerated and plowed into the teenagers. She then coolly got out of her car, lit a cigarette and called her husband to report what she had done. To Allen, the value of her car was greater than the lives of those three kids.
But this can’t be all that surprising, when our society holds human life in such disregard. At any time during her pregnancy, a woman can have a doctor destroy her unborn child’s life. The same act which contributed to Scott Peterson’s death sentence happens every day in America at the mother’s request. In Oregon and in several other locales, assisted suicide is permitted by law. In Florida, Michael Schiavo has shown that he prefers to have his disabled wife die by starvation than to divorce her and let her own parents care for her. As much as we joked about giving Grandpa an extra morphine drip in his IV, we never truly wanted to be the agents to contribute to his death; he received all the medical attention he could get before he passed away. But each year, numerous elderly relatives are hastened to their death by families who have grown tired of caring for them. Americans have proven by their actions that they like the idea of convenient death for inconvenient people.
“Enlightened” Europe has taken this concept several steps further. At first, the severely handicapped were euthanized. Then indigents, political dissidents and Jews were marched into gas chambers and liquidated. It took the Allies several years and millions of lives to force the Nazis to kick the eugenics bad habit. But sixty years later, Holland is picking up where the Nazis were forced to leave off. Officials at Groningen University Hospital recently admitted that they have euthanized (read: killed) four infants with severe disabilities. This announcement was downplayed in the world media, buried in the back pages of newspapers if it was reported on at all. The bare facts are horrifying: Dutch doctors may, without parental consent, take the life of a child up to 12 years of age if they deem it necessary. Parental wishes in the matter are only to be taken under advisement and are not in any way binding. In this regard, the European Union is inching closer to Hitler’s dream, but without the ovens. C.S. Lewis appears eerily prescient:
The greatest evil …. is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.
I value my life, and the lives of those whom I love, greater than any white-coated doctor or smooth-talking politician ever could. But God values human life even more than I do. The Lord reminds us that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). Those who do not value what God prizes so highly will be held to account for their actions.