How might the death penalty be understood in these terms?

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While it's a different subject, and I can't put words into Douthat's mouth without a slap on the wrist, the similarity of taking a life in capital punishment and abortion does have substance. Similar in intent, that is. We have a higher principle than the life of another person. I see Douthat's remarks countermanding abortion rights has an escape hatch, "practically every other case." The other cases of killing in war, self defense, and capital punishment include two events where there's time to adjudicate the killing — war and capital punishment. Self defense with a lethal outcome quite often involves split second reactions.

So, to your question, I'd say what Pope Francis says about this. Executing a criminal for a capital punishment identified crime may well take the person's life before they've had a chance to repent. He flatly condemns capital punishment, as do I.

War is also condemnable, but just wars still fall under a government's jurisdiction to protect their citizens. Pre-emptive wars? That's quite tricky to justify.

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