Sunday, March 8, 2009

Post No. 92a: Following Economic Meltdown, New Calculation of Value of Human Life



In yesterday’s edition of our local newspaper appeared an Associated Press article entitled, “Cost May Put End to Executions.” The article started:

After decades of moral arguments reaching biblical proportions, after long twisted journeys to the nation’s highest court and back, the death penalty may be abandoned by several states for a reason having nothing to do with right or wrong:

Money.”

You can view the entire article by clicking here.

We’re interested in your thoughts.

43 comments:

  1. I am of two minds when it comes to the Death Penalty. On the one hand, I firmly believe that our society is too quick to toss it out there as an option in many cases. The number of cases where the convicted was later proven to be innocent is but one example of this phenomenom. I happen to believe that any conviction where the Death Penalty is imposed should be required to be proven to a far stronger level than "beyond a reasonable doubt", and should really only apply to people that have been convicted of deliberately murdering a number of victims, or murdering their victim(s) in a truly heinous fashion. We've perhaps gone a bit too far in expanding it to include other crimes that may not meet those criteria.

    That said, I do not want to see the Death Penalty completely eliminated. There are indeed some people whose crimes do meet the criteria for size or viciousness that the Death Penalty is appropriate. But those people are likely far fewer than the number who are sentenced to die.

    As for the cost argument, I think it is a Straw Man type of fallacy. If you are going to allow cost to determine the level of punishment you plan to impose, are we next going to expand that reasoning to claim that if we simply did away with incarcerating anyone, and closed all of the prisons, we would save a great amount of money. Obviously there's hardly anyone that would agree with such an outrageous assertion, because we realise that trying the accused and punishing those who are convicted will carry a cost to implement.

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  2. Apart from a personal revulsion that any modern, civilised society should indulge in revenge killings, I have a more objective ethical objection.

    If you wrongly execute one single person, doesn't that make everyone guilty of murder by proxy?

    Or does a posthumous pardon make it okay?

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  4. Personally, I see this as a ploy by the anti-death penalty advocates more than as a real issue. These groups have always pushed the point that it is more expensive to execute someone than to keep them alive in prison for life. However, that could later be argued about LWOP vs 20 years (as a "life sentence" has been routinely defined in most, if not all states). And, I predict, if the DP is finally outlawed once and for all, that will be the next area of legal wrangling regarding criminal punishment. LWOP will then become "cruel and unusual", amounting to "slavery", and so on.

    Now, before you dismiss me as a bloodthirsty miscreant in favor of (as Jules called it) "revenge killings", let me acknowledge that I agree that this is what they are. But so are most prison sentences "revenge punishments". The very term "punishment" implies that. The problem is that society has no way of preventing most crimes without violating our rights under the Constitution. So we are left with retribution after the fact. We fool ourselves when we talk of rehabilitation. One look at at recidivism rates will tell you that. If you know anyone who has been through the system, you will find they learn more about committing crime inside a prison cell than outside.

    My personal position on the DP is this:

    If you can guarantee to me that the person will never be able to kill another human being, not a guard or a fellow prisoner or a person outside a prison, ever again then I will support the end to the DP.

    Yes, I am aware there is the possibility that someone, innocent of the particular crime but convicted of it, may lose his or her life. I am also aware that a guilty person who is not executed not only could, but has on several occasions, kill another innocent person if he is not executed. This leaves us with a moral dilemma. Which innocent life do we save in advance? The one which might happen but no one has proved has happened ? Or the ones we know have happened and will happen again?

    Yes, it seems barbaric to us to have a death penalty in these modern times in such a civilized society. I believe that sometimes barbarity is a necessary evil.

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  5. I think the discussion of the Death Penalty is the end point. First we have to decide whether we are running a penal institution or a housing authority for wayward citizens. It appears that we are currently running the housing authority, as there is really no punishment other than loss of freedom (but that minor irritant may be ok for many given the alternatives). Prisons are so lax that the only punishment is doled out on other inmates by the gangs that run them. The officers of the housing authority are simply there to make sure nothing gets messed up or no one gets out.

    So in this light the death penalty doesn't fit. There is no other punishment being applied to serious criminals (forget the drug addicts - we had that discussion already). So we go from removing television or conjugal visits to the death penalty!

    Personally, I think serious criminals are beyond reform so severe punishment up to and including the death penalty are warranted.
    Perhaps we should just turn our prisoners over to Iran or other Muslim countries and let them adjudicate under Sharia law. (Just kidding)

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  6. It's all so hard. Many "Christians" suppor the death penalty but oppose abortion. Pick and choose, the way we develop our moral and ethical philosophy, and for many people their religious belief.
    I can't jump up and down in suppor of a death penalty but I think without certain people the world is a better place. (Hurt my daughter and I will pull the switch. Sound familiar?)Unfortunately the only people who end up on deah row had little money and less than stellar lawyers.

    Alan

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  7. Alan, I believe I can explain that "Christian" reasoning and it is logical in its simplicity. The unborn child is an innocent, guaranteed, and has never caused anyone else any harm. The person facing execution has had many chances to live a good life and not hurt anyone else. I find no hypocrisy in that position.

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  8. My position on criminals will probably outrage many, but it certainly would solve society's problem. I propose a deserted island become a penal colony. Criminals are to be dumped off and left. No guards or amenities, nothing at all but food and medical supplies dropped from planes. The guards will be armed patrol vessels able to shoot down anything intruding by water or air that has no authority to be there. There will be no communications at all with the inhabitants of this island. They had chosen by their crime against humanity to live apart. So let them live apart with those of their own kind to form any laws or standards they choose to live by without harming those of us who choose not to commit crimes.

    Exception would be made for those who are addicted and should get medical help. And also for any whose crimes where "accidental" or done as a means of self preservation or to protect others. These people will need another type of care and may be rehabilitated. Outright criminals whether murderers or extortionists or rapist or child molesters can never be rehabilitated.

    In times not so distant this is what was done with those with incurable diseases who were innocent of any wrong doing. BB

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  9. Logistician,

    Though the victims' families may understandably regard capital punishment as "revenge killing", most of us who support it simply take the view that it is an expedient means to rid our society of those who would harm others. This technique has been practiced with positive effect for all of recorded history; why now must it suddenly be deemed "broken" and abandoned?

    As far as goes the "money" angle: it is our own stupid regulators and courts which have allowed it to become prohibitively expensive. They go too far in placing concern for the accused and convicted above that of the victim(s) and society.

    Now I am going to take a position which is terribly controversial: 99% of those on Death Row would not be there had they been engaged as part of the crime solution rather than as part of the crime problem. Yes, some truly innocent people are put to death, but they are the rare exception. Most who can claim "technical" innocence were willfully present at the crime scene and at best did nothing to aid the victim, at worst played some lesser active role in his demise. Is that "fair"? That depends upon whether you think that what happened to victim was "fair" and whether those who played a more assertive role in the crime can be effectively apprehended and tried. Message sent: "Choose your company wisely and keep your hands clean."

    And, Alan, those who oppose abortion and support capital punishment ask for only one question to be answered: what deliberate act of malfeasance did the unborn baby perpetrate against society to deserve a death sentence which is often meted out by a jury of only one?

    You may now commence stoning the heretic.

    Jeff Dreibus

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  10. coop: I'd say the truth is kinda between the two views of pur prison system ("penal institution" vs. "housing authority for wayward citizens") you mentioned. Yes, the recidivism rates are too high, indicating that our prisons are failing at the task of reforming the prisoners. But the fact that the rate is not 100% would imply that the prisons do manage to achieve this goal in part.

    Of course, there are some people that commit a crime due to a specific reason or set of circumstances, and if they never encounter that same reason/circumstance in the future they may possibly never even consider reoffending. But there are some others who were frequent/repeat offenders who do finally change after some time in prison and who do not return to being criminals even when presented with the same problems as before.

    Unfortunately, simple punishment isn't necessarily enough to prevent prisoners from commiting further crimes upon their release. If the circumstances that led those people to decide to commit their crimes are still in place when they leave prison (poverty, lack of education, drugs, etc.) the odds are against them "going straight" no matter how much they were punished. A parolee may actually strongly believe that they do not want to return to crime when they are released, but when they find themselves confronted with the same issues again they often end up following the path of least resistance.

    The problem is that these causes are very dificult to define, measure or resolve. It's usually easier for politicians to simply advocate increased punishment, which is easy to define and measure, and usually popular with voters. As Jeff Dreibus mentioned, it's likely that a majority of the people who end up on Death Row might not have committed the crimes that resulted in their being sent there if we could address the reasons why these people decided to do so.

    As a varient on brendabowers' idea of sending prisoners to a giant prison colony someplace, perhaps the solution is to force them to move elsewhere when they leave prison. Make it a requirement of their parole that they must move to a completely different state (and obviously register with the appropriate authorities there for monitoring of their parole). While this won't work with all prisoners, I suspect for some a forced break from the problems and temptations that shaped their decision to commit their crime(s) the first time may make it easier for them to avoid making that mistake again.

    I'm not trying to make excuses for why prisoners commit their crimes. They must ultimately bear the guilt of their decisions. But given that most of the decisions we all make on a daily basis are shaped at least in part by the circumstances we find ourselves in, I suspect that ignoring the problems that influenced these people to make the decision to commit their crimes means we make it more likely they will do so again.

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  11. Purely on a financial basis, as taxpayers, do you want your tax dollars saved by the institutions, assuming that life imprisonment cost less, as long as the prisoners serve life sentences?

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  12. Logistician,

    If we must answer the above question which (to my way of thinking) is based upon a false premise, then no, let's shunt some more "stimulus" money to the states so that we may afford to rid ourselves of the baddest-of-the-bad.

    If it genuinely costs more to jump through all of the legal hoops required to get the vilest of the oxygen-depleters on a gurney with a needle in their arm and delivered to the waiting arms of Satan, then I say "Do it".

    But you can't convince me that that is necessarily so when one contemplates the expenditure of constructing ever-more prisons and feeding/housing/clothing/doctoring these food-processors in relative luxury for sixty +- years. We can and should consult with the state of Texas regarding how they "streamlined" their Death Row backlog -- or "put in an express lane" as comedian Ron White describes it.

    Jeff Dreibus

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  13. I can think of nothing our government could do that would make me feel better about who I am, where I live, and what we stand for than to stop killing people in my name.

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  14. Should it be about revenge though? Isn't it about rehabilitation as much as punishment, about providing treatment for a pathological mindset (i.e. "curing" an individual of their potential to do damage to society)?

    I think I would feel prouder about living in a society that rehabilitated rather than stamped on offenders.

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  15. I reread the title of this piece and just got a different understanding of it..."New Calculation of Value of Human Life". What was the "old value"? We have often said that the value of a human life cannot be calculated in terms of money. Yet, we do that all the time, don't we? If executing someone is too expensive for society, is keeping the (maybe) brain dead spouse alive too expensive also?

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  16. YES!!!!! YES!!!!! YES!!! DOUGLAS!!!
    Now this is what we're talking about. That's why we tried to bring the discussion back to the COST issue and away from the death penalty propriety issue.

    It also reflects one of our goals, and that is to be able to extrapolate reasoning from one area to another to determine whether there is consistency.

    Great question Douglas.

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  17. I may be slow but I am not brain dead (yet) so don't pull the plug!

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  18. The government doesn't do a good job of anything. This outfit is too incompetent and corrupt to be allowed to decide who lives and who dies. People with enough money get off scott free (i.e. O.J. Simpson), while folks with public defenders get hanged. LWOP, with the emphasis on the WOP gives us the best shot at justice, we won't be granting innocence posthumously. It is good that the money issue is giving the DP a bad rap, as money talks louder than morality in this country.

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  19. What about Dr. Death/Kevorkian assisted suicides, or euthanasia? If someone has poor quality of life, and it costs his or her family (no insurance) lots of money to keep them alive, should they be permitted to undergo such a procedure? What if an insurance company is footing the bill? What if the government is footing the bill?

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  20. Jonathan: Why is it that the government doesn't do a good job of anything? What are the factors present that contribute to that perception? Many people think that the only thing which the government does well is the military; should we farm out the military function to private vendors?

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  21. Assuming that government does a decent job of "running" the military, even if the costs are ridiculous, what is it about what government does in connection with the military that makes many feel that that function should be left to government?

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  22. "What about Dr. Death/Kevorkian assisted suicides, or euthanasia?"

    As a 67+ year old looking a bit closer at the Grim Reaper than most of you I feel qualified to answer that question: My greatest fear is being sick, brain dead or otherwise incurable and unable to help myself and having a cadre of doctors keeping my body alive. I choose death over pain and suffering and being a burden. Assisted suicide would be my choice, but just keeping me as pain free as possible and doing nothing else would work too. Just DO NOT KEEP MY USELESS BODY ALIVE!

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  23. And about the military being the most effective branch of government. Why is it so? Because the military is run by people who know their jobs and do their jobs well because nothing less is acceptable. When something goes wrong heads have a way of rolling.

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  24. First, on the issue of maintaining life vs expense: I can't answer the question. My own personal experience was my father. It had nothing to do with the cost of maintaining his life and everything to do with his expressed wishes to me and others. His heart was failing, he knew it, and he had a "do not resuscitate" order on file at the assisted living facility where he and my mother lived. However, when he had a heart stoppage, 911 was called and they are bound by law to resuscitate and transport. So they did which placed in the hospital where he was placed on a ventilator which I had to later order removed. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life even though I was well aware of my father's wishes.

    As for the military, it is clearly required by the Constitution. See the Preamble and Article I, section 8. The military, however, has been privatizing a number of functions within it. Food services and base guards in the US have been provided by private companies since at least the late 60s.

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  25. Off topic but Log so often brings up the issue of just what is government, or forms of government that I had to pass on this video.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGk0adb4c7E

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  26. Douglas mentioned that the "military is required by the Constitution." Does that mean that service people are required to be government employees, or simply that the government is "required" to maintain a military force. Additionally, is the military "required" by the Constitution, or is the government merely "authorized" to maintain a military force?

    There are other things either required or authorized by the Constitution, including the Postal Service. What about the US Trademark and Patent Office? Should the government continue funding of a Constitutionally "mentioned" service if the service can be performed as well or better, and at a cheaper cost, by an outside vendor not connected with the government?

    Are there some valid policy reasons why certain functions should be run by the government only, no matter what the cost?

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  27. Thanks Brenda. Nothing is really off topic in this forum if it is somehow related to the subject at hand, and we are discussing the role of government and its myriad issues.

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  28. There is another very important reason the military runs reasonably well Brenda. They take away individual freedom, and makes each service person a fungible or interchangeable unit. Your individual desires, motivations, interests, and concerns do not matter. It's all about the mission.

    Just another example of how you can not let people have the freedom to do essentially what they want to do, and simultaneously complain about their choices.

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  29. You are correct, the Constitution only states that the government is required to "provide for the common defence" and gives power to Congress to "raise and support armies" and Navies. Art. III, Section 8 makes for interesting reading.

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  30. Jules we may not be guilty of murder by proxy as murder has with it mailice of intent but you have something there
    The death penalty once applied is irreversable. Our legal system does not have a jury convict based on a preponderance of evidence nor simply clear and convincing evidence but that old saw of evidence which brings the juror to a place beyond a reasonable doubt. The trouble is that no jury can know with the certainty of shall we say "beyond a shadow of a doubt" and should evidence later surface as has happened with a degree of frequency then there is no way to remedy the mistake once the convicted party has been put to death. Should the day ever arise that we can attain the certainty of no doubt rather than the current "beyond a reasonable doubt" , or if we can bring the executed back from the dead then I might go ahead with the death penalty.
    ================================
    I don't know why we (and by we I mean modern society) has such trouble with terminal illness. If someone is dying then prolonging their death (not their lives,their deaths) is really cruel yet all to usual punishment. Make them as comfortable as you can and if that means using a whacking lot of narcotics then so be it..IF the dying person wants it that way. If the use of these pallitives causes someone to slip away a little faster than "modern medicine" could have sustained the dying process then I say Bravo. Why we are crueler to ourselves and those dearest to us than we are to our pets? According to the Bible which is not an accepted authority to some here, animals have spirits and not souls. Why are we willing to release them and not those who have souls? Souls that when freed of these rotting bodies will rise to glory. It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown.

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  31. Reggie, it is necessary in a life and death situation that the leader not be questions but his orders be followed immediately. This is the reason soldiers freedoms are reduced. This same discipline should be maintained in police forces also. This is one reason why Greensboro Police Department is a shambles. Same for fire departments and hospitals. Nurses have no right to question a doctor when action is necessary. I will grant the military is the most restrictive body, but thank God for these men and women and their discipline. How many troops would have gotten off those boats at Normandy if it hadn't been beat into them to obey a command? Personally I don't care for the sound of German, I think it is an ugly language. BB

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  32. Jules and June: Hmmmm. This post has had legs longer than we expected. MURDER BY PROXY in connection with society's error in executing a defendant who did not commit the crime. Now that's interesting concept.

    How about "manslaughter by proxy," June? Would that address your intent issue?

    Why is it that society only has to pay monetary compensation for its poor judgments, but the criminal defendant has to pay with his or her life for their poor judgment? Should "someone in government" responsible the prosecution of the improperly prosecuted defendant have his or her freedom placed into issue?

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  33. Earlier this week, we heard a historian indicate that war never advances anyone's financial agenda. Even in the case of empire builders, he suggested that the cost of war is so high (just financially, not in terms of lives lost), that it never makes sense to expend the resources necessary to pursue a war.

    That made us think about this discussion. We simply placed a "cost containment" issue before you, and many immediately went to moral or emotional issues. Can the two be separated? Should the cost issue override the moral issue, or vice-versa?

    Some contend that illegal immigrants come to America, use various social services, and cost American taxpayers. Some contend that the conditions in their home countries are so deplorable that a country as prosperous as the United States should be willing to share some of its wealth with the less fortunate. Even the Pope has suggested that we not be as strict regarding immigration.

    Arguably, this is a moral issue. Should the financial cost associated with their use of social services override the moral issue?

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  34. Brenda: Thanks much for bringing up other reasons for the restriction of freedom in the military setting. However, one does not even have to consider the need for discipline in the heat of battle to fully appreciate its need. Just simply getting 100, 1,000, or 10,000 soldiers from one place to another requires suppression of their personal desires. Assuring that equipment works is another reason. Ensuring that everyone has the proper training is another. Uniformity is king. That way, when you lose one, you can just replace it with another and keep going.

    There are lots of reasons for the restriction of freedom in the military. Lots of good things stem from it, and lots of bad. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish at any given point in time.

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  35. "Why is it that society only has to pay monetary compensation for its poor judgments, but the criminal defendant has to pay with his or her life for their poor judgment?"

    I've always wondered why the person who failed to kill his intended target is rewarded for his incompetence. For example, the person who shoots another but fails to hit any vital organs is basically a bad shot. So he gets charged with "attempted murder" for which the punishment includes neither LWOP or the DP. Or, maybe he gets a break because of the improvement in medical technology and procedures so his victim, who might have died in years gone by, is the victim of attempted murder rather than murder. And why reward him for crippling someone for life rather than killing them outright?

    None of it makes sense to me. Attempted murder should be treated as murder and nothing less.

    "Should "someone in government" responsible the prosecution of the improperly prosecuted defendant have his or her freedom placed into issue?"

    I do agree with this. But it doesn't happen. there was a reason the executioner of old wore a hood. Today, the victim's of wrongful imprisonment or "excessive force" sue the government (us). I believe that, in California, intentionally wrongful prosecution can result in the prosecutor's facing criminal prosecution. What about the prosecutor of those Duke Lacrosse players? Should he be prosecuted under criminal law?

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  36. A few years ago, the State of Illinois tried to pursue criminal charges against an American automobile company for decisions which it allegedly made which the prosecutor contended led to the deaths of the occupants of a vehicle manufactured by the company. Should this become a more frequent practice, especially if it is clear that the company was trying to "save money?"

    Is the legal system, both civil and criminal, the proper vehicle to use when we are dissatisfied or disappointed with someone's conduct or behavior?

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  37. Poor judgment is not synonymous with criminal acts although poor judgment most certainly can accompany a criminal act. If I blow my rent money at the track and lose my apartment as a result that is bad judgment but it is not criminal. If I shoot my neighbor because his dog tore up my garden that is poor judgment that accompanies a CRIMINAL act.

    Manslaughter carries with it mens rea (Latin for "guilty mind"). If I am part of a corporate body that must carry out the penalty for taking another human beings life I assure you that I feel no guilt about it. The decision that led to the criminals death was his or her own. Certain acts bring certain consequences. Even in-action in the form of criminal neglect can bring about consequences. It is unfair to blame those who must carry out the penalty of such matters as if they were the CAUSE.

    Society is in part to blame for criminal activity and society pays for it dearly every day.

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  38. June: There is a concept called "criminal negligence," and there is also a concept called "reckless disregard for the safety of others."

    Quite often, someone who has suffered damages is permitted to pursue both a civil proceeding while the state pursues the criminal proceeding. Quite often in criminal actions, the judge is allowed to effect civil type restitution as a condition of probation. The line between criminal and civil infractions is not always as clean and clear as it might appear. The same applies to the "mental element."

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  39. We will say this about crime. Much in spent in our society on the back end, once crimes have been committed. A relatively small amount of society's resources are spent on the front end, in a pro-active manner.

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  40. First, on the issue of maintaining life vs expense: I can't answer the question. My own personal experience was my father. It had nothing to do with the cost of maintaining his life and everything to do with his expressed wishes to me and others. His heart was failing, he knew it, and he had a "do not resuscitate" order on file at the assisted living facility where he and my mother lived. However, when he had a heart stoppage, 911 was called and they are bound by law to resuscitate and transport. So they did which placed in the hospital where he was placed on a ventilator which I had to later order removed. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life even though I was well aware of my father's wishes.

    As for the military, it is clearly required by the Constitution. See the Preamble and Article I, section 8. The military, however, has been privatizing a number of functions within it. Food services and base guards in the US have been provided by private companies since at least the late 60s.

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  41. Jules and June: Hmmmm. This post has had legs longer than we expected. MURDER BY PROXY in connection with society's error in executing a defendant who did not commit the crime. Now that's interesting concept.

    How about "manslaughter by proxy," June? Would that address your intent issue?

    Why is it that society only has to pay monetary compensation for its poor judgments, but the criminal defendant has to pay with his or her life for their poor judgment? Should "someone in government" responsible the prosecution of the improperly prosecuted defendant have his or her freedom placed into issue?

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  42. I may be slow but I am not brain dead (yet) so don't pull the plug!

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