Bioethics Blogs

Consciousness and death’s badness

1. Many think that the wrongness of killing has at least partly to do with the harm and/or badness of death. I assume that is right.

2. Many think that the harm and/or badness of death has primarily to do with the deprivation of a future. In particular, many think that the future contains valuable experiences and states of affairs, and that death robs an entity of experiencing or otherwise attaining these valuable things. Although there are different ways of making explicit how a future is valuable, I assume that the general idea is right.

3. The value in the future is prima facie problematic for those who find abortion permissible. Fetuses seem to have valuable futures. If so, then at the very least there is a (potentially defeasible) moral reason against killing a fetus (cf. Marquis 1989).

4. A response to this line of reasoning can be found in a much-discussed theory of death’s badness, the time-relative interests account (McMahan 2002; DeGrazia 2003, 2007). This account builds a discounting mechanism into the value of an entity’s future. It is not just any future that is valuable, but the part of the entity’s future with which the entity is psychologically connected. To the extent that some entity lacks psychological connections with her future – connections supplied by things like memories, actions and plans in progress, the persistence of values, character traits, and so on – the value of that entity’s future is discounted.

An application to the wrongness of killing a fetus is this. A fetus, we might assert, lacks strong psychological connections with its future.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.