Thursday, September 04, 2003

Just Punishment? A question

This is not a post about the death penalty. It's about the circumstances under which we are allowed to use lethal violence to right a wrong.

Paul Hill, convicted of murdering an abortion clinic doctor and his security guard in Pensacola in 1994, was executed today in Starke, Florida, a few hours up the road from here. I think they used lethal injection rather than Old Sparky, Florida's famous electric chair which, on at least one occasion, really did put on a disturbing display of fireworks. Mr. Hill went to his death unrepentant, believing that a great reward in heaven was laid up for him. The local news coverage was sparse. At the moment of execution, 6 P.M., most stations were giving the weather forecast. (And this struck me as very odd, to tell the truth.) I got more from MSNBC, where Pat Buchanan was interviewing Pat Robertson, who condemned outright the actions of Mr. Hill. Rev. Robertson thought it contradictory to kill in the name of life. But of course that's exactly what we did in Iraq, and what the state did to Mr. Hill. Robertson also rejected the commonly raised analogy that draws a parallel between an abortion clinic doctor and a Mengele in a Nazi death camp, although the principle behind his rejection was not clear to me.

We know certain things to be true: That we may sometimes use lethal force to defend ourselves or others; that murder is a crime, and that murder was taking place in that clinic, and that the doctor was therefore committing it; that Mr. Hill perceived himself as acting in the self-defense of an innocent other possessing no means of defending himself.

I know other bloggers have chewed this over before, but I wouldn't mind hearing the answers of readers to the following question:

Was Mr. Hill, in your opinion, justified or not? And why. I'd like to know the core moral principle on which you base your support or lack of it.


Anonymous said...

Mr Hill killed both the doctor and his bodyguard. He also injured the doctor's wife. The bodyguard had no part in the abortions performed by the doc. Like the wife, I guess he was just collateral damage in Hill's private spiritual war.
As for the doctor, I believe Hill was wrong in killing him. While I am an advocate of the pre-emptive strike (kill the killer before he kills), there was no incontrovertable evidence to support Hill's assumption that the doctor was going to perform any more abortions. Yes, it was highly likely, but, at the moment he was gunned down, he was simply walking to the clinic, not poised between the legs of some woman with his suction and forcepts in hand. For all Hill new, the doctor might have been going in to clean out his desk. Hey, he might have had a change of heart the night before. All Hill could be said to have done for certain, was avenge the murder of the unborn that the doctor had killed previously. But vengence is meted out by the State on earth, and God in the afterlife, not Paul Hill on his own.
There were other options, too. Hill could have disabled the electrical power in the clinic, or the water system, or, if he wanted to be dramatic, he could have bombed it to hell...either way, there were many non-lethal options opened to him. I think his anger and pride blinded him to these options. More sin on his part.
Oh, and his murder of the doctor did nothing but damage to the anti-abortion cause and the image of Christianity in the eyes of the secularists.
Peace & Love,
Posted by james kern email at September 4, 2003 07:04 AM

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kern's final, prudential point is an important one: how many babies are actually saved here?
I'll also add that the Catholic Church is extremely cautious about the execution of criminals even after a trial and length appeals process. Even if abortion were outlawed as murder, still the Church would only very rarely sanction the execution of convicted abortionists.
Posted by Paul Cella email at September 4, 2003 11:14 AM

William Luse said...

Paul, you can do better than that. The Church's caution about the death penalty is irrelevant. A criminal awaiting execution is in custody; the doctor was not. Hill saw him as an enemy combatant in a war against the unborn. If you saw a man about to murder one of your fellows, and you had the means to prevent it,you would. Mr. Kern does make a couple of good points, but I'll have to get to them later. Got to go to work right now.

Posted by William Luse email at September 4, 2003 01:51 PM

Anonymous said...

William Luse is a courageous man for even asking the question. The answer isn't the slam-dunk some make it out to be. My reasons for insisting that Paul Hill was not justified is largely based upon what has been said already: a) Mr. Hill does not have *jurisdiction* or legitimate authority over the lives of murderers; b) the killing was not directly in the defense of anyone in particular; c) the killing was not likely to have saved anyone's life; d) even if Hill's victim was about to commit an immanent abortion, non-lethal means could have been used just as effectively; e) in the long run his action has harmed -- not helped -- the pro-life movement.

Posted by Jeff Culbreath email at September 4, 2003 02:26 PM

Anonymous said...

Where I think Mr. Hill was misguided was in two areas. One, I heard him say a couple days ago, "I saved 32 babies that day." I wish I could believe him, but I don't think that's true. How many of those mothers went to other clinics and had abortions anyway? How many changed their minds because an answer was provided that enabled them to keep their babies -- a parent's offer to help, a charitable organization providing food, medical care and housing, a boyfriend saying "I won't leave you after all...."?
Which brings me to my second point, noted above by Mr. Kern. Paul Hill had non-lethal options, he just didn't take them. One of them would have been long and difficult -- helping each one of the women in practical ways so that their "need" for an abortion was greatly diminished.
Killing the doctor and his bodyguard was attention-getting, but lazy and merciless. Those 32 mothers didn't get anything out of Paul Hill's actions that day. And very likely, it only bought most of their babies a momentary reprieve until they rescheduled for an abortion somewhere else.
Posted by Sparki email at September 4, 2003 02:47 PM

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Paul Hill really believed that he "saved 32 babies that day".
As Sparki and others point out, how likely is it that those mothers didn't just go somewhere else? (It would be interesting if some reporter could find and interview some of them.)
When Hill said he saved those babies, I wondered if this wasn't a psychological defense mechanism against acknowledging the full reality of what he did that day...kill someone, without saving anyone.
Goodness knows, as a woman who once chose an abortion, I'm all too familiar with defense mechanisms like that.

Posted by Emily email at September 4, 2003 05:01 PM

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm game.
I don't think that the Bible establishes a principle of individuals violently fighting the law of the land. As James Kern points out, God says that vengance is his, so punishment for murder is not appropriate.
If you argue that it is moral for an individual to forcefully protect the innocent from the government (because that's what this becomes when the government authorizes the abortion provider), then you get into all kinds of tricky situations.
What if someone is wrongfully convicted of murder and is sentenced to death? If you know that the person is ignorant, is it moral for you to try to spring him from prison? Would it be moral to kill the state executioner in such a case?
Expand the principle here with me ... would it be right for me to bomb a porn store? That would also serve to protect innocents. What about a casino? Where do you stop taking the (moral) law into your own hands?
Hmm ... no, this won't do. I've just put myself in the position of standing idly by as Herod kills all the babies in Jerusalem or as Pharoah kills all the Hebrew babies in Egypt. I'm not sure that I have a very good argument, but it's all that I've got.
I will say that the argument that Mr. Hill's actions harm the pro-life movement seems to be a practical rather than a moral argument. It is wrong to judge the morality of an act on certain possible consequences instead of the morality of the act itself. Otherwise, you end up arguing that Joseph's brothers did the right thing by selling him into slavery in Egypt.

Posted by Ryan Booth email at September 4, 2003 07:33 PM

Anonymous said...

I obviously meant "Bethlehem," not "Jerusalem." Sorry.

Posted by Ryan Booth email at September 4, 2003 08:34 PM

William Luse said...

You also meant "innocent," not "ignorant." And I think your point about harming the pro-life movement being a practical rather than a moral argument is correct. Hmmm...a lot of smart people chiming in. Give me a couple days to collect my thoughts. Maybe a can of worms I shouldn't have opened. I'll try to put up an analysis either tomorrow or Saturday. Further comments from others (and from those already on record)are welcome. I'll try to address them all.

Posted by William Luse email at September 5, 2003 12:51 AM

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did mean "innocent." :) I'll promise not to make stream-of-consciousness comments in the future. I'm looking forward to your analysis. As Jeff said, the answer certainly isn't a slam dunk. This is something that I've certainly struggled with in the past.

Posted by Ryan Booth email at September 5, 2003 10:53 AM

Anonymous said...

I object to both the killing that Mr. Hill did and that he was subsequently killed for his unjust act on the same principle.
The abortion doctor who was performing objectively grave acts was killed as far as we know before he had a chance to repent of such acts.
Norma McCorvey of Roe v. Wade ran an abortion clinic and was eventually converted by the charitable actions of a Baptist Minister. She now avidly works on the pro-life side. What if someone had chosen to take her out?
Dr. Bernard Nathanson a co-founder of NARAL went on to make Silent Scream. There are countless ex-workers of abortion clinics who came to repent of their acts.
Mr. Hill also appeared unrepentant to the end, would spending his life in prison have allowed him to realize the error of his act?
The killer of St. Maria Goretti in prison ended up repenting of his act and was at the canonization of St. Maria Goretti. This conversion was no doubt the consequence of that saint praying for him
As Christians we are called to prayer and sacrifice and the living of the Christian life to hopefully transform through the grace of God those who are doing violence to their own eternal souls.

Posted by Jeff Miller email at September 5, 2003 06:53 PM

William Luse said...

Thanks, Jeff. Give me a little more time.

Posted by William Luse email at September 5, 2003 07:56 PM