Bernard J. Whalen

Copyright 2002

The wooden pews of the old courtroom were crowded with spectators jockeying for a better view of the defendant who seemed unusually smug considering his situation.  Very few of those present even recalled a capital murder case before.  Why would they?  There hadn't been a homicide in the land for over two hundred years. Then last month, the unthinkable happened.  The defendant killed another man, and all of the medical science in the world could not change that fact.  During the trial there was much debate in the civilized society as to how such a brutal offense should be handled.  Now that the defendant had been found guilty by a jury of his peers, determining the appropriate sentence for his crime fell upon the shoulders of a wizened magistrate.
The bailiff announced, "Hear ye, hear ye.  All rise for the Honorable John Joseph Kanganis."
The murmuring immediately ceased as the judge entered the courtroom and took his position behind the bench. 
"Come to order and be seated," the bailiff directed.
After waiting a moment for quiet in the courtroom, Judge Kanganis began to speak.  "This is a sad day ladies and gentlemen.  One that I hoped this land would never see again, but evil has paid us a deadly visit in the form of the guilty defendant before us, David Samson."
Samson swivelled his head and body around toward the pews behind him, displaying a confident smirk for all to see. The people reacted with flinches and nervous whispers.
Kanganis pounded his gavel and instructed Samson's attorney, "Please have your client keep his eyes forward."
"Yes your honor," the attorney replied. 
Samson turned around slowly and faced the judge doing little to hide his scowl. 
Kanganis continued, "The burden of justice is often a heavy load, and one that can not be shared. This has been true since the days of Solomon. Judges have been entrusted by society to determine the appropriate penalty for those convicted of crimes. This decision is mine to bear, and mine alone.  I have spent all my waking hours since the jury passed its verdict, pondering the fate of the defendant. When I first became a judge, more than two centuries ago, my duty would have been clear.  Back then, we still had many, many violent murderers in this land. I would have directed that David Samson be executed immediately.  An eye for an eye was the law of the land. But that is no longer so."
Samson whispered to his attorney, "I told you that he wouldn't sentence me to death. Even if he keeps me in jail for a hundred years, what does that mean? I'm going to live forever."
Whether or not Kanganis heard Samson's confident assertion, he did not say. Instead, he continued to explain how he arrived at his forthcoming pronouncement.  "All changed with the dawn of the last millennium. Medical science discovered that telomeres, the DNA material at the ends of our microscopic cell structure was responsible for aging. After that, life as we knew it took a dramatic turn, going from finite to infinite.  As a result, for the last two hundred years, we have taken for granted that we no longer get old because, a simple daily tablet of telomeracin allows our cells to divide with the same precision as that of a healthy newborn.  Once we reach the legal age of twenty-one, it up to us to decide how old we want to be.  Ironically, no one born since the introduction of telomeracin has chosen to advance past thirty. Without the ravages of time affecting our bodies, medical science has been able to accomplish a level of greatness henceforth only dreamed about.
"In the late twentieth century, nine tenths of every dollar spent on medical care was used for simply maintaining life during a patient's last year on this planet.  It was a tremendous waste of money since no one got better, yet few would admit it.  In fact, when a doctor had the audacity to take matters into his own hands and assist the terminally ill with committing suicide believing death might be a better solution to the problem, he was incarcerated... by me."
"This is going even better than I thought it would," Samson uttered.  "Maybe I won't even have to do a hundred years in that bed and breakfast they call a prison."
Kanganis peered over the bench and asked Samson's attorney, "Does your client have something to say?"
"No your honor."
"I thought so. Where was I? Oh yes. As I was saying, the cost of dying was a waste of money.  Telomeracin was the miracle that not only extended life, but permitted us to redirect our vast resources to eliminate poverty. As a result, our population enjoys a quality of life better than ever dreamed possible. Of course, on occasion, there is the rare accident that claims a life, but the operative word is accident, not intentional murder.  Therefore, because David Samson not only took eternal life from his victim and the eternal happiness that accompanied it, I must see that he is properly punished.  Will you please rise, Mr. Samson."
Samson pushed his chair back and rose to his feet.  He was still grinning ear to ear.
"The sentence I pronounce for you, David Samson is the loss of eternal life. You will no longer have access to telomeracin. Your penalty shall be to live a normal life span, not one extended by the miracles of modern science."
Samson bent down and whispered in his attorney's ear.  "Is he sentencing me to death?"
The attorney replied, "In a matter of speaking, I guess he is."
"Do something. Say something," Samson demanded.
The attorney nodded. "Your honor, I must point out, the sentence you have pronounced, it is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. Without his daily dose of telomeracin, my client will die."
"That he will," Judge Kanganis said, "but he will have sufficient time to dwell on his actions and if all goes well, he will serve as an example to others in this land for the next forty or so years to those who may wish to also take an innocent life. Bailiff, please enter the sentence in the court record.  Mr. Samson you are free to go and live your remaining years as you see fit."
"You can't do this to me," Samson shouted as the judge retreated to his chambers.  "Cruel and unusual punishment. It's unconstitutional I say."

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