The execution of 25-year-old Melbourne man, Van Nguyen, by Singaporean authorities on 2 December 2005 for attempting to smuggle 400 grams of heroin out of Singapore was cruel. It was also futile. Yet, there are three important lessons that can be learned from his killing. The first lesson is that if Australia is to exert genuine moral pressure on nations to abolish the death penalty it must do so in a principled manner, rather than making expedient pleas when Australians happen to be on the wrong end of the cruel practice. Secondly, sentencing practice in Australia, while not condoning capital punishment, is unjustifiably punitive and we should ameliorate the harshness of some of our sentencing laws. Finally, the death of Nguyen, while tragic, was no more tragic than the millions of other preventable deaths that occur daily throughout the world. The compassion displayed toward Nguyen should be used as a catalyst for enlarging our sympathy gland in relation to all preventable deaths. I now discuss these in further detail.
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