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The Death Penalty and Human Dignity: An Existential Fallacy

Writing Department, Curry College, Milton, MA 02186, USA
Independent scholar, Henniker, NH 03242, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Robert Johnson
Received: 28 February 2016 / Revised: 30 April 2016 / Accepted: 30 May 2016 / Published: 2 June 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rough Justice: Penal Sanctions, Human Dignity, and Human Rights)
Full-Text   |   PDF [161 KB, uploaded 2 June 2016]


Proponents of capital punishment in the United States frequently cite the evolution from electrocution and hanging to lethal injection as an indication that the evolving standards of decency exhibited by such a transition demonstrate a respect for human dignity. This essay examines that claim by evaluating two standards for assessing whether an act comports with accepted definitions of human dignity: a personal-achievement model, based on work by economist Amartya Sen of Harvard University, and a universal and intrinsic approach to human dignity articulated by criminologist Robert Johnson of the American University. We evaluate Sen’s capabilities model through the lens of a condemned prisoner’s ability to achieve self-defined goals. We then assess Johnson’s claim that preserving human dignity requires an elimination of the death penalty, irrespective of any prisoner’s ability to lead a restricted, albeit goal-directed, existence. View Full-Text
Keywords: human dignity; death penalty; capabilities approach; lethal injection human dignity; death penalty; capabilities approach; lethal injection
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Nagelsen, S.; Huckelbury, C. The Death Penalty and Human Dignity: An Existential Fallacy. Laws 2016, 5, 25.

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