One of the many things that make the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell interesting is that if convicted of murdering any of seven newborns allegedly delivered live in his West Philadelphia clinic, he would face the death penalty. Indeed, capital punishment plays an important part in the case since the district attorney allowed cooperating witnesses-- those who admit killing their tiny victims with scissors -- to plead guilty to lesser charges that don't carry the death penalty.Would Dr. Gosnell's execution by lethal injection be a concern for those who call themselves prolife? It turns out that the answer is yes -- at least for one prominent anti-abortion advocate, Princeton University Professor Robert P. George. In a post at First Things, he writes:

Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brothera precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is no. There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.

It will be interesting to see the reaction George gets, including from the substantial number of Catholic bishops who hold his conservative views in high esteem. A call to spare Gosnell's life would make a powerful prolife statement, steeped in gospel values. George's column anticipated resistance to that:

I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnells, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.I do not expect my request to be met with universal acclaim.

The comments on his post so far attest to that -- most are thumbs down for sparing Dr. Gosnell's life.

Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

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