Thursday, August 17, 2006

Culture of Death

When he signed South Dakota's heartlessly draconian take-no-prisoners abortion bill into law earlier this year, Governor Mike Rounds seemed to be positioning himself as "pro-life." Some folks, with more than a little schmeer of bigotry, hinted that his actions were to be expected since, after all, he is a Catholic. But now, with South Dakota's first execution in more than half a century in the offing, the governor appears to be distancing himself from any hint of pro-life-ness--and incidentally from the teachings of his church.

The governor's reasons for not blocking the execution of death-row inmate Elijah Page are at best peculiar. "Gov. Mike Rounds could stop it by ordering a delay or by changing the sentence to something less severe," writes the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader. "But he believes in capital punishment and calls Page's deed a crime of extreme cruelty. 'At this point, I don't have any plans to intervene,' Rounds said."

No one argues that Page is innocent (not even Page), or that he shouldn't be punished. Hell, I'd say most of us agree that life in prison without parole is probably too good for the murder scum. But for the governor--and plenty of other folks, too--to be so firmly committed to "protecting" life on the one hand and so willing (perhaps eager?) to extinguish it on the other is, well, peculiar.

And so much for the governor acting at the behest of his (and my) church: The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly come out in opposition to capital punishment as well as abortion...but it has not escaped my attention that the more rightist elements of the church, while extraordinarily pious and obedient in following church teachings when it comes to the unborn, manage to become deaf when it comes to folks who are already with us.

Curiously, the fact that Page has put a stop to his appeals process and evidently wishes the execution to go forward seems to count a lot for the governor and other supporters of the death penalty. Why his wishes enter into it at all is beyond me. If he indicated a desire to not be put to death, would the state honor that wish? If he tried to commit suicide in his cell, would not the state move to stop him or, failing that, preserve his life? Why, if his desire to die is all-important?

In the end, I find myself again facing the strange inconsistencies of the right-wing mentality. If one is really and truly "pro-life," then one must be as adamantly opposed to the death penalty as he is to abortion. There is no way around it: life is life, life is sacred, and only God gets to decide when to end life. Otherwise one is merely anti-abortion.

That's fine, but then have the honesty to say so.