VOICES: Death penalty a moral injury for our state, incompatible with belief in a sacred right to life

As a registered nurse, I was trained to react quickly when a situation required my attention, to do my best in a challenge, and to ensure that the people I cared for were safe and protected. As a risk manager, I was trained to listen and observe. I have applied these principles to every area of my life: I am a mom, a new widow and a dedicated pro-life volunteer. I serve on the Respect Life Committee at Incarnation Church here in Dayton, and I am active in Dayton Right to Life.

As someone who believes deeply in the sanctity of life, I realize there is an issue that requires my immediate attention, and I must act. It’s time for the pro-life community to talk about the death penalty.

I began my volunteer work advocating for the right to life in 1970, shortly after the birth of my first son. Watching my baby begin his life deepened my appreciation for the precious gift of life. I believe that life begins at conception and ends with natural death. There is no question for me about this natural and wondrous truth.

With my experience as a nurse, I helped open up one of the first pregnancy centers in Dayton where we saw women who requested pregnancy tests and counseling. Later, I helped put together programs that discussed end of life care. With almost 50 years of experience in this realm, I have seen the death penalty mentioned a few times, but it has never been a focus.

I urge all those who believe in the right to life to make it a focus. At its core, the death penalty is the furthest thing from pro-life.

The death penalty’s collateral damage is a violation of the sacred gift of life. It requires an enormous amount of resources, even though it’s never been proven to keep our communities safe. In fact, murder rates in states with the death penalty are consistently higher than in states without it.

The death penalty is painful and cruel to the victim’s family members, who are dragged through decades of appeals. My heart aches for the moms, dads, sons, daughters, and siblings who must wait, watching the murderer’s face on the news again and again.

The death penalty is also applied unevenly. In some counties, a prosecutor may decide to use someone’s life as a bargaining chip to secure a plea bargain. In others, they may not be able to afford the enormous cost of a death penalty trial. I am horrified to think that the priceless gift of life is cheapened by the practical workings of the death penalty.

I recently learned that there are two bills being considered in the Ohio legislature that would abolish the death penalty. They both have received bipartisan support and House Bill 183 has gone further in the legislative process than any other bill of its kind. The bipartisan support for these bills reflects an understanding by lawmakers that the death penalty is neither pro-life nor fiscally responsible. I must agree wholeheartedly.

As our legislature considers whether or not Ohio should keep the death penalty, I am reminded of the words of Sister Helen Prejean, a longtime champion for abolition of the death penalty. She said, “There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch.”

Ohio must stop pretending the death penalty is a viable solution for horrific crime and see it for what it is: a moral injury for our state and incompatible with the belief in a sacred right to life.

Mary Gutman is a retired nurse and healthcare risk manager in addition to being a mom, grandmother and recent widow.

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