A Fate Worse Than Death

The claim has been made that, all things be­ing equal, it is bet­ter to be al­ive than dead. I dis­sent.

It is much more com­pli­cated than this. If I knew some­how that I would spend the next fifty years of my life in Guan­tanamo bay, I would rather kill my­self than suffer that fate. If a for­tune tel­ler showed me that I would be in a car crash and lose all sen­sory in­put, but would be kept bliss­fully co­matose on co­caine and ec­stasy, I would get my af­fairs in or­der and end my own life. And yet, if I knew that ev­ery day for the next 50 years I would be hor­ribly tor­tured, but my ex­pe­rience would elimi­nate suffer­ing from ev­ery­where else in the en­tire world, I would ac­cept the fate and do my best to steel my mind for the hor­ror that would be my life.

I want to feel like my ex­is­tence has pur­pose. I want to make the world a bet­ter place to live in for other peo­ple. I want to be happy and ex­pe­rience plea­sure. Th­ese, not a pri­mor­dial drive to keep my­self al­ive, are my mo­ti­va­tions. Killing my­self would be the only ra­tio­nal chice if I knew that my life would be worse than my death.

I’m not try­ing to ad­vo­cate suicide. I’m sim­ply say­ing that the will to live is not a ba­sic mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor for most hu­man be­ings. So when the ar­gu­ment is made against life ex­tend­ing tech­nol­ogy, rather than coun­ter­ing it with “all things be­ing equal,” try “ex­is­tence be­ing plea­surable...” But don’t claim that ex­is­tence of sen­tient be­ings is in­her­ently good.