Re: why immortality?

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Mon Aug 06 2001 - 22:30:35 MDT

Lee Corbin wrote:
> I'm sorry. I didn't make my point with sufficient clarity. You
> are always "crowding others out" in the sense that others *could*
> live in place of you, perhaps people entirely different from you.
> One way for you to achieve this is by becoming someone else. But
> so long as you remain you, this "someone else" won't be.

Oh, ok. That's actually a bit easier to deal with, since it has
applications in the here and now. Specifically, fetal tissue use:
given an embryo, it is possible to raise it into an independent
organism or to destroy it so as to harvest something (usually data)
that may help previously existing organisms. Some say that, whenever
faced with this choice, the only ethical decision is to raise the
embryo - but I disagree, and I suspect most people on this list also
do. Certainly, if the owners of the embryo wish to raise it, then it
should be raised. But if they do not, then they may dispose of the
tissue as they see fit - up to the point where it can survive
independent of life support (a baby can live outside of the womb; a
mere lump of tissue can not, without a replacement environment such as
a petri dish).

The mere potential future existence of an organism does not, in itself,
grant the potential organism any right to live, especially if its life
would detract from the quality of life of previously existing
organisms. (Crowding out said previously existing organisms definitely
quailfies, IMO.) Once it really *does* exist, the situation changes,
but the mere potential is not enough. Otherwise, the only ethical
activity for all human beings would be constant, ceaseless
reproduction, tempered only by the need to ensure that newborns reach
puberty. And perhaps this was the dominant mode of thinking for
Neanderthals...but we are not cavemen. (Any argument about extending
life during one's fertile years can be dashed by the investment in
life extension for the elderly. Post-menopausal women are provably
infertile, and neither are similarly aged men the best fertilizers, so
why not stop wasting food and other resources on them? Obviously,
human lives have some value beyond mere ability to make more lives...)

Put another way: if the matter which comprises you were to be
reassembled into a different person, with nature rerolling the dice to
come up with something completely random, would the average expected
quality be higher or lower than what you have achieved? (Note:
"average expected quality". It is *not* valid to compare you to the
best possible replacement, for exactly the same reason it is not valid
to compare you to the worst possible. The chances of the new you being
the next Messiah, or the destroyer of all humanity, are practically
equal and therefore cancel each other out.) If the quality were
higher, then perhaps this worry might be justified - except that,
knowing this, you can then reform yourself to be better. If the
quality were lower, then your existence (as opposed to other uses for
your matter) is a net benefit to civilization, and you are justified in
taking up what resources you least for the moment, though if
you always strive to improve yourself, this condition may well be

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