Thursday, February 02, 2012

Canadian senator: Inmates should have the right to suicide

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Sen. Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu (C-Qc)
Sen. Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu (C-Qc)

A Conservative Canadian senator has apparently created a bit of a fuss after letting slip a comment about letting prison inmates hang themselves in their cells:

A Canadian senator has said imprisoned murderers should have the "right to a rope in their cell".

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a Conservative senator, later backtracked from the statement, which came a month after two Canadians charged but not convicted of murder were found dead in jail.

Canada abolished the use of capital punishment in 1976.

Mr Boisvenu founded a victims' rights group after his 27-year-old daughter was raped and murdered in 2002.


Mr Boisvenu made his comments to reporters ahead of a meeting of the Conservative caucus.

"Each assassin should have the right to a rope in his cell to make a decision about his or her life," he said. He serves on the committee currently reviewing Canada's omnibus crime bill.

Of course, the morality police came down on him like a sack of bricks and he soon retracted his comments and apologized.

Now, I’m probably the last person you’d expect to defend a right-winger’s inflammatory remarks, but the truth is that I just don’t think what Boisvenu said was all that unethical or controversial. Granted, it sounds like a “heat of the moment” sort of thing, and it was a bit poorly phrased, but the general idea – that inmates should have the right to end their own lives as they see fit – is one I can absolutely get behind. Not only is it a practical concept, given the growing issue of prison overcrowding and the exorbitant costs of the long process leading up to state-sanctioned executions, but it is also a moral one on two levels – first because it certainly offers many long-term inmates a preferable option to wasting away for decades behind bars, and second because everyone has (or should have) both the right to life and the right to end it.

The death penalty is wrong for numerous reasons, the absurdity and danger of the flawed government getting to decide who lives or dies and for what reason being chief among them, but there are precious few cogent arguments to be made for preventing people from ending their own existence if they see fit. I wouldn’t recommend the method implied in Boisvenu’s comment, per se, but having some means of allowing hard-timers to end their own lives on their own terms really is just the sensible and ethical approach overall.

As a mostly unrelated sidenote, though, is anyone else intrigued by the fact that even without any capital punishment to help keep prison populations down and all kinds of liberal policies decried as “soft on crime” by conservatives, the Canadian penal system is still doing marvelously better than in the United States, which has some of the harshest penalties and where numerous states put prisoners down like PETA does with animals?

Just a thought.

(via @todayspolitics)