Don’t ignore the elephant(s) in the room: The death penalty debate

(Elephant in the room: An obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.

It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue. Source: Wikipedia)


In any argumentative essay, it doesn’t do your argument any good to pretend that opposing views don’t exist. And it doesn’t do your argument any good to undermine the strength of these opposing views. So don’t sidestep the metaphorical puddles; acknowledge the strength of opposing arguments and deal with them.

So, in the context of the capital punishment debate, let’s look at these figurative elephants straight in the eye and try to address them.

For proponents of capital punishment, address this:

Assume now, for the purposes of discussion, that no matter how meticulous the Prosecution in a death penalty case may be, there will be the unintended execution of an innocent person. Does the inevitability of such an innocent death cause you to doubt your position in support of the death penalty? If not, why not?

For opponents of capital punishment, address this:

Assume now, for the purposes of discussion, that there are depraved individuals, including serial murderers who will kill innocent victims upon release from prison, or will kill correction officers and other prisoners in prison. Would you still assert that imposing death penalties on such particularly egregious/ heinous individuals is not justifiable?

(I welcome more emails, dear students. Emails aren’t graded, and I do want to know your honest opinions on this (literally) life-and-death issue.)


In other news, and on a personal note, I never thought we would see the day where convicted drug trafficker, Yong Vui Kong (note: high-profile case), might get his death sentence commuted. I remember Yong’s case and the lengths that his defense lawyer, Ravi, went to so as to plead for clemency – pleas were rejected, and I thought his execution was a foregone conclusion.

But the new amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act are actually now potentially going to change things. The amendments have now removed the mandatory death penalty for certain drug trafficking cases. The amendments have introduced the term “substantive assistance” into sentencing decisions; this “substantive assistance” is defined as “substantively assisting in CNB’s operations to disrupt drug trafficking activities within or outside of Singapore”. This may include, for example, the provision of information leading to the arrest or detention or prosecution of any person involved in any drug trafficking activity.  The courts will then have the discretion to sentence the defendant to either the death penalty or life imprisonment. Those sentenced to life imprisonment will also be liable to caning of at least 15 strokes.

Earlier on today, it was announced by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) that Yong had “substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within and outside Singapore.”

If Yong and his defense lawyer can prove that he was merely a courier – as opposed to a ringleader, manufacturer, distributor and seller – Singapore courts would have the discretion of punishing Yong with a life sentence and at least 15 strokes of the cane, instead of the death penalty.

Yong’s family and his defense lawyer were heartened by the amendments. However, if we do analyze the criteria of “substantive assistance”, do you not find it a tad troubling that what stands between life and death for a drug trafficker is his willingness to basically point the finger at alleged ringleaders? As put forth by an opposition MP, the Explanatory Note to the amendment clarifies that information which does not enhance the effective enforcement of the Act “will not suffice”. According to this wording, a low-level courier who knows nothing about the drug network will still go to the gallows, while another courier who has more information (and is presumably closer to the higher echelons) can escape death.

What is the message here? That the question of life and death depends on whether a drug trafficker is able to name ringleaders in these drug networks? That giving such information mitigates his crime? What are the implications of this amendment and what are your views?

Stimulating and thought-provoking topics of discussion, no? (: Give the earlier ‘elephants in the room’ more thought. A lot of thought.

(Some background on Yong’s case:

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One Response to Don’t ignore the elephant(s) in the room: The death penalty debate

  1. Pingback: On the Deterrence Argument (the death penalty debate) | Takes on GP Issues

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