AUGUST 2, 1958
NEW YORK—Are we, with our finite knowledge, entitled to take away the life of any human being?
I raise this question here because there are movements in a great many of our states to abolish capital punishment. Such movements, I am told, are under way in Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, California, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Delaware acted last spring to end executions and Oregon will vote on the question in a referendum this fall.
I have thought about this question a great deal and have talked about it with many officials dealing with criminals, always with the thought in mind that the reason for all punishment for crime is the prevention of crime. But many have told me that capital punishment does not seem to prevent crime.
In the past it was felt that when a man had taken a life, for instance, it was reasonable to take his life in return. But then people of deep religious beliefs began to wonder whether any human being actually had a right to take the life of another, no matter for what reason. This thinking, of course, is what motivates conscientious objectors in time of war.
There is great pride in legal systems, and their efforts to punish with justice, in many parts of the world. But with all these efforts mistakes do occur. So we wonder whether human beings should make the decision to remove life from other human beings.
While we strive to do away with war and find peaceful solutions to our problems, many of us also believe we should strive to do away with capital punishment.
If we feel a criminal is so dangerous that he should not be allowed freedom, then he can and should be detained in prison. But then, even in his detention, his life can be made useful to himself and to the community.
Being deprived of freedom is a great enough punishment for any man, but those of us like myself who do not believe in capital punishment do not think it should extend to the taking of his life. That is beyond our jurisdiction.
A change has developed in our philosophy concerning the care of mental patients. So-called open hospitals are being proposed to the authorities in many states, and experiments in allowing patients greater contact with the outside world are proving successful.
Such an experiment was an outing arranged by the Mental Hospital Guild, Inc., of the Brooklyn State Hospitals, from where 550 patients were taken in 15 large buses to Cunningham Park in Queens on Long Island.
The guild provided a good box lunch and festivities, including a band, dancing and community singing. The attendants were dressed in street attire so that as much of the hospital atmosphere as possible was removed. The patients behaved like any normal group of people and had a wonderful time.
The guild, organized in 1948 and supported entirely by voluntary contributions, evidently proved that new ways can be adapted to the treatment of mental patients.