Iran to permit victim of acid burning to blind her assailant. What is the ethical thing to do?


[First off, the latest I have is that this has been postponed.] The facts are pretty simple: Woman spurns her lover. He stops her on her way home and throws acid in her face, disfiguring and blinding her. It is part of a rash of such attacks in Iran.

The court awards her monetary damages and considers a physical penalty. She rejects the money and asks that he be blinded with acid - a literal 'eye for an eye' under Sharia law. The court allows it if the assailant is rendered unconscious and the victim uses droppers to drop the acid into his eyes. Gross, I fully admit.

But...what is the ethical thing to do here?

Progressive ethics says, "This is barbaric. Don't." I can't count current American ethics as progressive. Killing a person permits one to be killed; that's the granddaddy of them all, so arguing that lesser punishments for lesser crimes are somehow worse than the death penalty is illogical. American's wouldn't abide by disfigurement as a punishment owing to some mix of the Scarlet Letter and the Eighth Amendment. Still, I think an honest look concludes the position is inconsistent.

And what of the rash of such attacks? The death penalty does not deter murder, but could disfigurement deter disfigurement? I guess that's where the Scarlet Letter does make a difference. A murderer doesn't have to live the death penalty. If the American position that disfigurement is potentially worse than death is credible, then perhaps it could have real deterrent power. So, again, is such a punishment ethical?

I'll put in my opinion: Don't do it and work on the rule of law. Punishment to prevent injury was effective when policing could not deter crime as effectively as it does today. If a man who throws acid knows that he has a better than even chance of rotting in prison, he doesn't do it. I understand that achieving strong rule of law takes time, but the only way to have it succeed is for everyone to act as if it exists until it does. Acts like this erode it.

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