Salon has a nice article (in Premium, alas) about how executions are often seen as giving “closure” to the families of the victims, when in reality this is not the case. Here’s an excerpt:

No psychological study has ever concluded that the death penalty brings “closure” to anyone except the person who dies, and there’s circumstantial evidence that it can prolong the suffering of grieving families. That’s why Bud Welch, an Oklahoma gas station owner who lost his 23-year-old daughter Julie in the Oklahoma City bombing, says, “George Ryan in Illinois did a tremendous service to the victims’ family members, though they don’t realize it. Now those people will understand that it’s over with and they have to move forward.”


McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001. Since then, Welch says, “Not a single person has told me they benefited from it. I’ve had about five people tell me that it really didn’t help them any,” he says. Some came to that realization while McVeigh was still alive. Welch says that at one survivors’ meeting several years after the bombing, a widower who’d wanted the death penalty suddenly said, “You know what? Hell, it ain’t going to help me when they kill that guy.”


“If anything prevents closure, it’s the death penalty,” says Richard Moran, the author of last year’s “Executioner’s Current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair” and a criminologist at Mount Holyoke. “If you have a trial in which the person is sentenced to life imprisonment, it’s over, that’s it. If the person is sentenced to death, you will be contacted by authorities and will relive that murder every two years for the next 15 years. Then, if they finally do execute the person, then you can start beginning your closure. What it does is, it puts off any healing. Wounds are being reopened and whole process is being prolonged.”


“Most of the psychiatric literature would say those who forgive have a better chance of letting go of it. Some people can find it in themselves to forgive, and they do the best. I don’t know if I would be capable, but if I were to advise myself on what I needed to do to survive if something like that happened to me, that’s the strategy I would try to follow. It’s the only one that works.”

Meanwhile, Dwight Meredith has a post about litigation versus the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for people who are damaged by vaccines, possibly including parents whose autistic children may have gotten that way as a result of thimerisol:

More than 85% of marriages into which an autistic child is born fail within 5 years. In order to save one’s marriage, raise children and move forward with life, the parents and siblings of an autistic child have to find some level of acceptance of their circumstances.

That acceptance can only be found when moving forward and focusing on the future. Becoming obsessed with the causes of a child’s disability and the assessment of blame does not aid the search for acceptance.

Litigation is by definition backwards looking. Litigation is solely focused on the cause, blame and damages for something that happened in the past. Liitgation focuses on the problem and not the solution.

Unlike litigation, life must be lived looking forward not backward. The qualities that make for successful litigation often make for an unsuccessful life.

Having a functional family and a functional life is far more important than unlimited damages for pain and suffering. Functionality is achieved only through accomodation and acceptance. We have spent more than five years trying to find acceptance. While we may not have reached that goal, we have traveled some distance towards it.

I find the parallel to be striking.

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One Response to Closure

  1. zizka says:

    To me, “closure” is the worst of the arguments in favor of capital punishment — because you can get closure just as well if an innocent person is executed. (Or lynched — lynchings were about closure too.)

    There have been cases — by my guess, many cases — when the families of the victims objected to evidence exonerating the particular individual who had been condemned. Because as long as **someone** is executed, you have closure. Exoneration puts you right back where you started.

    For the record, one of my brothers was murdered, and for me an execution would not help. It does bother me that the guilty ones are known and have not been prosecuted at all. (There’s a long, international story there involving a civil war).

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