As many of you know, I was brought up Catholic. I attended a Catholic grade school, and graduated from a Catholic college with a minor in theology. While I do not agree with all of Catholic Social Thought, by and large it has formed the basis for many of my moral and personal beliefs.
Catholic Social Teaching is firm that abortion is morally wrong, and many view it as infanticide. As Catholics, we are supposed to promote what is called a culture of life. This includes opposing abortion because, according to the Church, “[l]aws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law.”
So it probably comes as no great surprise that I was morally and ethically outraged at the Kermit Gosnell case. For anyone who doesn’t know, Gosnell was convicted of killing babies who were born alive during abortion procedures. I will say that again – Gosnell was convicted of killing babies who were born alive during abortion procedures. And he did it right in my beloved City of Philadelphia. I am left without words to describe such an atrocity committed so close to me.
When I heard about the Gosnell verdict, my reaction was primal. It was angry. The first thought that came into my head is “I hope he gets the death penalty, that son of a bitch.”
But should Gosnell be executed?
After such an emotional response, that Catholic Social Teaching started whispering in my ear again. In Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II wrote:
This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence.”(46) Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.(47)
Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.
On that topic, last year I read a book by Chris Hedges called “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” on the same topic. Hedges took the “Culture of Life” theme and suggested that America has become a “Culture of Death.” Hedges wrote that “[a] culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”
So where does this leave us with Gosnell? On the one hand, Gosnell committed one of the worst atrocities a person can commit. That is obvious. It’s tragic. And it’s horrible. His actions are the reason people are outraged by abortion in the first place.
So should we kill him in response?
After much thought, I am inclined to say we should not. Executing Gosnell will not foster a culture of life. Killing another human being, no matter how evil, simply undermines the basic moral reason people are opposed to abortion in the first place. Gosnell is behind bars and the world is safe from him.
Killing Gosnell would only serve only as revenge, and achieve nothing but furthering a culture of death.