Friday, March 14, 2014

Should We Use Biotech To Create A Living Hell For Criminals?

Hell on earth

Radical life extension would give humans the power to create an artificial hell for criminals. Should we?

A Hell of a future. Photo by Martin Barraud/Gallery Stock 

Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment. That story has always seemed like an intellectual relic to me, a holdover from barbarism, or worse, a myth meant to coerce belief. But stripped of the religious particulars, I can see the appeal of hell as an instrument of justice, a way of righting wrongs beyond the grave. Especially in unusual circumstances.

Take the case of Adolf Hitler. On the afternoon of 29 April 1945, Hitler was stashed deep in his Berlin bunker, watching his Third Reich collapse, when he received word that Benito Mussolini was dead. Hitler was aghast at the news, not because he’d lost yet another ally, but because of the way Mussolini had died. 

The Italian dictator had been trying to slink into Switzerland when he was caught, shot, and dragged to a public square in Milan, where a furious mob kicked and spat on his body, before hanging it upside down on a meat hook.

Worried that he might meet a similar fate, Hitler decided to test the strength of his cyanide capsules by feeding a few of them to his dog, Blondie. By midafternoon on the following day, 30 April, the Red Army was rampaging through Berlin, and the Fuhrer's empire had shrunk to a small island of land in the city centre. Rather than fight to the end and risk capture, Hitler bit into one of his cyanide pills, and fired a bullet into his head for good measure. When the Soviets reached the bunker two days later, his body had been burned and his ashes buried, in a shallow bomb crater just above ground.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Hitler got off easy, given the scope and viciousness of his crimes. We might have moved beyond the Code of Hammurabi and ‘an eye for an eye’, but most of us still feel that a killer of millions deserves something sterner than a quick and painless suicide. But does anyone ever deserve hell?

For the rest of the story: http://aeon.co/magazine/living-together/should-biotech-make-life-hellish-for-criminals/

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