The value of life is, like most things, a continuum. Coincidentally, the ethical ramifications of taking life is a continuum. In this post I’m going to try to explain my ideas for how the ethical calculation should be made. I think I’ve reached the conclusions I have through rational thought.
- 1. Life is good
- I’m taking this to be an axiom. If you disagree, uh… well, comment.
- 2. All life is not equal
- This is obvious when comparing a bacterium to a human, but it raises the question of how life is valued. There are three main factors in this calculation.
- 1. Quantity of life
- This is fairly straight forward. The longer the organism lives, the more value on that life. So, all other things being equal, killing a young person is worse than killing an old person.
- 2. Type of life
- This category is trickier. I argue that a bacterium is not less valuable than a man because a man is human, or because god says so, but because a bacterium lacks certain abilities. For example, a bacterium cannot feel pain, so killing a bacterium is not as bad as killing something than can feel pain, say, a human newborn, or a puppy. An organism that is not self aware would be less valuable than one that is. An organism that can have hopes and ambitions for itself is more valuable than one that cannot. These are just signposts on the continuum, and others could be added. This category is the most important.
- 3. Relationship to others
- A life is more valuable if it is valued by other life. Murdering a pet dog is worse than murdering a stray, or a dangerous animal. This means that those close to a person must be considered when deciding whether it’s ok to kill someone. If the individual is of sound mind, they have the final say, but if they aren’t, then those close to the individual can make the decision. If nobody is close to the individual, it falls to whatever organization society puts in charge… likely the government.
- 3. Quality of life can be measured
- In order for these ethics to be applied, it has to be accepted that some measure of the quality of life can be taken, and standards can be set.
So why do I bring this up? First, I just like thinking about things, but mostly, it solves a lot of issues many people wrestle with. It also has some interesting implications.
Under this system, abortion is certainly legal. A fetus can’t feel pain for a few months, making it about equivalent to a bacterium, or a jellyfish, and there are no laws protecting them. Even after birth a baby is about the same a dog, so as long as it is killed humanely, it should be legal. Once a baby is self aware, it qualifies as a human with all the rights afforded, and cannot be killed ethically, barring special circumstances. This, of course, applies to anything alive, monkey’s, dolphins, aliens, not just human babies.
This frame of thought means assisted suicide, for any aged individual, is completely ok. If that individual judges its life not worth living, it is theirs to end. Obviously, one still needs to make sure the individual is not under any duress in making the decision.
It also provides guidelines for how to treat animals humanely. Of course, it doesn’t solve all the problems. There’s all kinds of ways we can disagree about what qualities of life matter more and how to measure the quality of life, but I think thinking about the subject with this mindset is better than what people currently do. *shrug* Makes sense to me, anyway.