This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
This is the lesson I have learned by sitting in the Utah State Prison and talking to inmates, by watching a loved one struggle through the end of life at too young of an age, by listening to women I respect about their struggles with abortion.
No life should be thrown away. If we believe in protecting human life, we must protect all human life, guilty or innocent, or we will not be able to protect any.
The concept that no life should be thrown away is easier to accept when we talk about the unborn. Those who oppose abortion will say that every unborn child deserves to live. Even those who argue this most ardently may balk when it comes to convicted felons.
Perhaps this is because many of them have had no opportunity to interact with prison inmates. But those of us who have had that privilege can assure you that even the most hardened criminal deserves an opportunity to rehabilitate, reform and regret, regardless of whether the inmate takes advantage of that chance.
To talk with a prisoner is often to talk to someone at the lowest point in his life. Someone who lives in a cement cell and whose days are filled with the sound of clanging bars and voices that can't be muted, someone with a lot of time to fill and few options for doing so. Despite, or perhaps because of, the stark conditions, prison is also where amazing grace happens. It is in prison where we just might see people who have committed horrible crimes reach the moment where they truly understand the damage they have caused and desire to seek forgiveness from those they have harmed. It is the point where the prisoner stops thinking, "Woe is me," and starts connecting his bad acts with the wounds they caused to victims. It is in that moment that we witness the full potential of human beings.
Despite this potential for penitence, legislators toy with the notion that such lives should be thrown away.
How dare we as a state throw any life away. How dare we as a state take that spark of reconciliation away from anyone.
This is especially true when the state's method for taking life away turns the offender into a star. Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution in 2010 made international news for weeks. Google him today and you won't see the victim's name for pages and pages of results. This is contrary to the idea of restorative justice, which requires the focus to be on the impacts of crime on victims, including society at large.
I have heard the death penalty called justice, but there is no justice in the death penalty. I have heard its biblical, eye-for-an-eye roots, but in biblical times, the death penalty required the unanimous consent of at least 23 judges who were unequivocally certain of the person's guilt. And if you really want to go back to a biblical death penalty, you will have to start imposing it for disrespecting parents, being a rebellious son and blasphemy. Not to mention ignoring the entire New Testament message of forgiveness and Jesus' atoning for all of our sins.
In the words of Archbishop Charles Chaput, a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, "A culture ultimately defines its moral character by the value it places on each human life, particularly those lives that seem most burdensome, inconsequential, or unworthy."
Utah has a chance to shine its moral light by protecting the lives of those deemed unworthy and ending the use of the death penalty.
Jean Hill is government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.