General Question

josie's avatar

Why have Western capital execution methods gradually become more merciful?

Asked by josie (22950 points ) April 27th, 2011

There is a spot in the Piazza del Signoria that marks where Girolamo Savonarola was executed by Pope Alexander VI.
He was dangled by his neck over a fire so that he simultaneously strangled and burned to death. They broke his body into pieces and mixed them into the burning wood until there was nothing left.

That seems about as rough as it gets. It was in 1498.

Gradually, over time, Western countries have modified methods of authority sponsored killing, in an attempt to make them more quick and merciful, and then in most cases (except the US in particular) they stopped doing it altogether.
It’s good enough for me-I am opposed to the state or church killing a citizen or a heretic.
What is the reason for this “evolution” of attitude

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8 Answers

klutzaroo's avatar

The cultural and societal prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” If you’re killing someone, the ultimate punishment, you don’t have to do it in a method that is prolonged or unnecessarily complicated. No matter how much they deserve having done to them what they did to others.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

I think there’s two main reasons—-

1) societies, particularly Western societies, have become more liberal and hence more “politically correct” and socially more sensitive towards human rights, so the methods of corporal punishment have become “more humane” so to speak, “more civil”.

2) advances in technology have aided the development of more “humane” ways of disposing of criminals, for example, the use of chemical injections in the past couple of decades to execute criminals, rather than hanging them or electrifying them. Even as late as the early 60s, people were still being hung where I live.

lillycoyote's avatar

Because western nations don’t like to believe themselves to be barbaric, in fact, almost all Western societies/nations have completely eliminated capital punishment. The United States is an exception, in that it still practices it at all.

SavoirFaire's avatar

People have become increasingly squeamish about the death penalty, and so its proponents have found ways of making it more palatable to the general public. The penalty those on death row have been sentenced to, after all, is death—not torture. More humane ways of killing people are better able to stick to the actual sentence, and they reflect the view that we’re not trying to make anyone suffer even though we’ve decided to permanently and irrevocably eliminate them from society.

dabbler's avatar

It changed from being a punishment to just a desperate “solution” because we were too shamed by the savagery of retribution, a milestone in civilization. The whole death thing we haven’t all got around to being sufficiently ashamed of yet.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Easier cleanup? My original answer was better PR.

flutherother's avatar

When the established order feels threatened it resorts to extreme measures to protect itself. When it feels secure it can act more humanely. We recently waterboarded someone 280 times so we can never be complacent and think the bad days are behind us. We also lock prisoners up in extreme isolation in supermax gaols, which is hardly humane.

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