US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Oregon's decision to respect life

Liz Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

After the execution of Troy Davis in September created a national controversy, many people wondered what impact his death would have on the debate over capital punishment in the United States. Last week, this question returned to the spotlight with Oregon governor John Kitzhaber’s declaration that he will not allow any executions for the remainder of his term in office.

Kitzhaber oversaw two executions while serving an earlier term as governor in the 1990s. The memories of these executions still haunt him today.

"I do not believe those executions made us safer,” Kitzhaber said. “Certainly I don't believe they made us nobler as a society. I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be morally wrong.”

Kitzhaber believes that Oregon’s system is broken, flawed to the point that only those inmates who waive their legal rights—essentially volunteering to die—are executed. The governor believes that voters, when they reinstated capital punishment in 1984, did not intend to create such a system.

Opponents of the death penalty—Catholics included—are praising Kitzhaber’s decision. Portland Archbishop John Vlazny said, "Those of us who respect the dignity of human life from conception to natural death applaud this decision.”

In September, after the Davis execution, the church clarified its position on the death penalty, saying that there is no room for supporting the death penalty in today's world.

Kitzhaber is convinced that there is a better solution to be had that will keep society safe, support victims of crime, and reflect the values of his state. As Catholics, we should share his conviction as we work to respect the dignity of all life.