21 Aug 2011

Essay Topic: Meaning of Murder

It is a common idea shared by everyone that murder is a heinous crime of taking another person’s life. “Murder is not crime of criminals, but that of law abiding citizens” (Schmalleger, 2001). However, simply killing someone does not make it murder under law, rather the act should fall true in law’s criteria in order to be claimed as murder.
Murder, in its legal sense, means the act of killing someone unlawfully. Hence, there are circumstances where the act of killing will not be tantamount to murder in the court of law. Such cases exist where homicides have not been punished. Such examples can be found in assisted suicide, wars and self-defense cases.
With the advent of development and improved standards of living, people are becoming more civilized and have come to believe that executions and other forms of assassination must not be permissible under any circumstance and must get penalized. This idea has altered the meaning of the word (in legal sense) as people tend to label any act of killing as murder without understanding its legal nature.
People across the world have started recognizing and appreciating the highest standards of human rights. In many countries death penalty has been abolished, Australia is one such example. Citizens of such countries consider execution as a murder on the state’s part. That is why the United States and other countries where death penalty is still intact are under constant pressure from various human rights activists to make reforms in their laws and abolish this punishment. Such a case was witnessed when a 25-year-old Australian national Nguyen Tuong Van was sentenced to death by a Singaporean court for the crime of drug trafficking. Many Australians felt for their fellow citizen and demanded the release of Nguyen (Hogan, Cooke, & Butcher, 2005). However, after all appeals were denied he was executed. This particular case moved Australians and they claimed this to be an incident of state murder. Protest against the Singaporean government was showcased at a mammoth scale. People demanded release of Nguyen; the least they wanted was his life to be spared. In this particular case Australians made a mistake by confusing execution and death penalty with murder (Hogan, Cooke, & Butcher, 2005). Execution is entirely different from murder, in the former a convicted criminal is sentenced to death, while the latter stands as the act of ending an innocent person’s life unlawfully (Hogan, Cooke, & Butcher, 2005).
Similarly, Euthanasia, which is legal under certain circumstances, is considered a murder on part of physician by most people who consider that pain should be endured by the patient no matter how harsh the suffering is. However, assisted suicide can be legally practiced where the patient has given his consent and is certain that he will not survive and keeping him conscious and alive will only result in further suffering and pain. Thus, there are certain circumstances where assisted suicide is legal, but many journalists and people who share the same point of view that killing under any circumstances is wrong, use the word murder for euthanasia, which can jeopardize the career of a devoted physician who merely acted on the patient’s advice.
There has been a similar case where euthanasia was practiced by a physician after the endorsement of the patient’s wife, who requested the death of her husband after learning that keeping him alive will only bring more suffering (Sabbatino, 2011). Biased media reports surfaced and the court decided this practice was murder and illegal. Sabbatino criticizes the practice of euthanasia as murder and claims that it should not be practiced under any circumstance. This argument might seem to be acceptable emotionally, but legally and rationally, it does not stand possess any substantial weight (Sabbatino, 2011).
Euthanasia is a legally accepted practice where a physician provides complete detail to the suffering patient or to his family, when the patient is not in a condition to make a decision for him. After considering all the variables, after which that option is chosen, that which seems less painful and relieving for the patient.
In these cases people should be cautious before charging the physician with murder, as the physician is not the decision maker; in fact he just merely acts on the direction of patient or his heirs. Judging and labeling medical practitioners as murderers where they can legally practice assisted suicide is unethical and such judgments can definitely ruin their career. In a recent survey where medical students were interviewed as to whether they would ever consider such a practice, some suggested that 16 percent of the practitioners would consider it, 55 percent would not consider practicing euthanasia under any circumstance whereas 29 percent were not sure and planned to make the decision depending on the nature of the case (Kane, 2010). This survey goes to show that our society really considers death as a terrible incident and most of the people would not get their hands dirty under any situation. Nonetheless, labeling euthanasia is not at all acceptable (Kane, 2010).
Similarly, the supposed execution of a convicted killer, Michael Morales who in 1981 raped and killed 17-year-old Terri Winchell in a gruesome manner was claimed to be unfair and inhumane as this would result in pain to the murderer. The society has grown so sensitive to any kind of violence and suffering that people now even consider the execution of the convicted murderer as unfair (Ryan, 2006). America has been under constant pressure from many human rights activists and organizations to ban death penalty in all of its states. People have become so concerned about human rights that they are unwilling to tolerate lawful execution of a killer. Even the physicians who were assigned the task to give lethal injections to execute Michael Morales backed out at the last minute, fearing that they would be labeled as murderers and this would ruin their careers as medical practitioner. In today’s society many people consider painful death unjust even for a convicted killer. The way medical practitioners are trained and educated, most of them now believe that death penalty should be abolished completely and doctors who take part in such a task would automatically risk their careers (Ryan, 2006). Even if a doctor acts as a tool to implement justice, he could be called an assassin while he is actually executing a person who feels no remorse.
In another story covering the execution of Albert Greenwood Brown, a convicted killer charged for abducting, raping and murdering 15 year old girl, Brown’s lawyer on death row claimed death penalty to be unconstitutional and unfair and that his client was unable to choose the method of his execution. In case of failure he was supposed to be executed through a three drug cocktail, which the lawyer considered cruel even for a killer and rapist. People might tag this act as a murder on the part of state, for not allowing a convicted killer the manner in which he has to die.
In some circumstances people also tend to label an individual acting in self-defense as a murderer where the person just tries to save himself from injury and in the process inflicts a blow on the attacker which results in latter’s death. These situations have been witnessed in cases where a child has been bullied at young age by another kid; when the child acts in defense and accidently kills the bully. He was labeled as murderer by the family of the deceased child; while in the rational and more importantly, the legal sense, accidental killing in self-defense is not murder at all.
This casts a negative impact on the child who has already gone through an emotional trauma by being bullied and in addition, people have branded him as murderer too. This judgmental behavior and label are deemed to affect an innocent individual’s psyche (Kalkstein, 2011).
Summarily, it can be stated that our society has become oversensitive for no reason at all, while totally overlooking the atrocity of the crime previously committed by the criminals. Even killing of convicted killers is being opposed; USA and other countries are being pressured by human rights organizations to abolish capital punishment. They consider such executions as murders by state, as exemplified in Nguyen’s case.
Murder should be separated from other acts of killing which are legalized by law and practical under certain circumstances. Thus, we should be careful while using this word so that we do not fallaciously accuse someone of being a criminal.


Schmalleger, F. (2001). Criminal law today: An introduction with capstone cases. Prentice Hall.
Hogan, J., Cooke, D., & Butcher, S. (2005, December 02). Australia wide protests. The Age
Sabbatino, R. J. (2011, July 03). Suicide is not a crime, but euthanasia is. Pocono Record
Kane, L. (2010, November 11). Exclusive ethics survey results: Doctors struggle with tougher-than-ever dilemmas: other ethical issues. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/731485_7
Ryan, Joan. (2006, February 23). It’s about the killing, not the pain. San Francisco Chronicle,
Kalkstein, Meghan. (2011, July 01). Father says son, accused of murder, and acted in self-defense. Retrieved from http://www.katu.com/news/local/124839584.html

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