Dr. Deepak Chopra recently wrote that continuing use of the death penalty in the U.S. is irrational because it does not deter crime, risks innocent lives, and isolates the U.S. among the majority of First World nations that have chosen to abandon capital punishment:

The U.S. has isolated itself among First World countries by allowing the death penalty — 123 countries have abolished it completely, or in practice never use it, a few permitting it under extreme circumstances.

Of the 50 countries that newly abolished the death penalty since 1985, only 4 have reinstated it. Why aren’t more people chilled by the fact that in 2004, 97% of executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam, and the U.S.?

Execution amounts to cruel and unusual punishment by the world’s prevailing standards. A current case before the Supreme Court is testing that proposition here. Yet somehow the American public feels undisturbed by this issue. Few if any politicians dare to run on the wrong side. In this case “wrong” means humane and rational. Why do we kill criminals? The right wing surely can’t hide behind morality, unless they want to warp Jesus into an eye-for-an-eye advocate.

No, the death penalty is almost entirely irrational. It has little if any deterrent effect. Tragic mistakes have been made in its application. The very fact that inmates must wait on death row for years, even decades, is cruel enough. How many times do they die in their own minds before the actual event?

The landscape of cruelty in America has become more and more disturbing recently.

Under what possible moral scheme can a civilized country consider this anything but barbaric? Our prisons are called penitentiaries (from the root word ‘penance’) because over two hundred years ago it was felt that an enlightened society must move beyond Old Testament revenge for wrong-doing. Now we have slipped back across that moral boundary, and the saddest thing, in this boom time for building more prisons, locking away more non-violent criminals, and handing down maximum sentences, is that we have learned to condone cruelty almost as if it didn’t exist. As if it was a good thing.

(Huffington Post, June 27, 2006). Deepak Chopra is the founder of the Chopra Center for Well Being in California and a leading expert in mind-body medicine. See New Voices.