Showing posts with label Death Penalty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Death Penalty. Show all posts

Monday, January 24, 2011

On Death and Dying

Flipping through the most recent issue of the Columbia University alumni magazine, I noticed a brief article focusing on a former law professor of mine from Rutgers Law School--Newark, Norman Cantor. Professor Cantor's seminar, Death and Dying, was a course that was justifiably well regarded by Rutgers students.

Professor Cantor has just published a new book, After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver, whose cover illustrates this blog post. According to the Columbia piece, in his book, "Cantor conducts a legal and historical examination of the disposition and treatment of the human corpse that leaves no stone unturned." The interview with Cantor was conducted at Bodies: The Exhibition in Lower Manhattan. The exhibit is not for the faint of heart. Again from the Columbia piece,

Inside the dimly lit rooms of the gallery were about 20 human bodies in various stages of dissection, preserved through the technique of plastination, by which water and lipids are replaced with polymers and dies. The finished product is both remarkably lifelike and strangely inhuman. Facial features are erased in the process, destroying individuality.

My daughter the scientist has been to the Bodies exhibit, but it's not the kind of thing I am eager to pay to see. Call me squeamish. However, it was interesting to read Cantor's reaction to the exhibition, and to learn about the origins of his interest in the disposition of the body after death. I enjoyed catching up with a favorite professor through this brief but compelling article.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Death Penalty Undermined

The New York Times is reporting "a tectonic shift in legal theory"--the American Law Institute's announcement that it is abandoning the framework it created in 1962 in an "effort to make the death penalty less arbitrary." Section 210.6 of the Model Penal Code, which created the "intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system, has been withdrawn by the ALI "in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment." Click here to read a message from ALI Director Lance Liebman and here to read the Report of the Council to the Membership of the ALI on this subject. The New York Times has a pithy summary of the reason underlying ALI's action: "What the institute was saying is that the capital justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken."

According to the ALI, what are the problems with the capital justice system? 1.) It is impossible to "reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness." 2.) Racial disparities in administering capital punishment persist. 3.) The system is extremely expensive. 4.) There is a serious risk of executing the innocent. 5.) The system is "undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections."

Opponents of the death penalty had hoped that the ALI would "take a stand against the death penalty as such [but] that effort failed." Nonetheless, the ALI's action is important, according to Professor Franklin E. Zimring, expert on criminal law and the death penalty, "'because they were the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.'" Zimring went on to say that ALI's action is "'very bad news for the continued legitimacy of the death penalty ... But it's the kind of bad news that has many more implications for the long term than for next week or the next term of the Supreme Court.'"