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Wednesday, April 13th, 2005
1:38p - More thoughts on euthanasia, etc.
Is life intrinsically valuable? I'm going to go out on a pretty major limb here and argue that it is not. The value of a thing can be defined as the difficulty of replacing it, and life is all pretty much the same when you get down to it: a few complicated but commonplace chemical reactions that differ from one another only in the details. All human organisms are pretty much exactly the same, biologically speaking, as all other human organisms; heck, the variation between a human and a fish is less than that between a scorpion and a lobster. No individual life is irreplaceable, because there are billions more where it came from.

However, and this is a big however, minds are unique. Each human mind is astonishingly different from the next one over, and I would argue that, therefore, minds are irreplaceable. Minds are valuable. Defining mind is hard -- I would argue that things with brains less complex than the average monitor lizard probably don't have them, while Stephen Hawking almost certainly does, but that leaves a pretty big gray area. My own definition would include all humans (with exceptions noted below), chimps, bonobos, and maybe gorillas, dolphins, possibly some whales, and maybe a couple of species of bird (parrots, crows, and ravens come to mind). Oh, possibly also elephants, and maybe some squid. More research needs to be done on a lot of these species, and on the rest of the mammals and birds, and on aquatic life in general, to be sure. The point is, minds are valuable, and willfully destroying one is generally wrong (although I support the death penalty, but that's a completely different argument). Note that, as I don't believe in an afterlife, I believe that death results in the destruction of the mind.

My point? Modern medicine makes it possible to keep the body alive after the mind is dead. If the mind is dead, the person is dead; the body is just a thing, a mindless organism of no more value than a fly. There is no moral issue in destroying it, so long as one is certain that the mind *is* dead. There is, however, a great deal as yet not understood about the brain, so it is a very difficult thing to be certain about.

There is also something to be said for dignity. I know I don't want to slowly shrivel away in some ICU when I could just slip off into the night. I'm starting on a living will as soon as I settle this who "finding a job" thing, and I'm going to make it clear that if I am dying, I wish to do so in the most efficient and least painful way possible. I'm also going to make it clear that if I lose all capacity for thought and sensation a la Schiavo, I want the machines turned off.

-Froborr d'Wiggy

Postscript: The philosophy I stated above sounds incompatible with my environmentalism. It's not, and I'll probably explain why in my next post. Same bat time, same bat channel.

current mood: contemplative

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