Bioethics Blogs

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: In light of the value of personal relationships, is immortality desirable? by Fionn O’Donovan

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Fionn O’Donovan, is one of the four shortlisted essays in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

In light of the value of personal relationships, is immortality desirable?

In the future it is likely that advances in medicine will grant us the opportunity to prevent the process of ageing. The question of whether eternal life would be a good thing will then be of the utmost practical importance to humanity. In this essay, I claim that it would be, and that Williams’ concerns about immortality[1] can be assuaged with consideration of how life always gives us at least an opportunity to realise something commonly held to be incommensurably valuable, namely good relationships with others. I note here that, for the purposes of this essay, I assume there is no afterlife. I also want to note that the issues of immortality and euthanasia are linked: a similar question about whether death is ever desirable is central to debate on both. Therefore, many of the considerations I present below could also be used to support a more pro-life view on euthanasia.

Before I set out my counterarguments against Williams, I will outline my reasons for believing eternal life to be desirable. I think Williams’ strategy for tackling the matter of whether immortality is desirable is exactly the right one: we need to begin by working out our answer to Lucretius’ view that death is not a bad thing. Put another way, we first need to find out what it is that makes us think life is valuable and worth living, and then we can see if the beliefs we end up committed to in light of our answer to this question also commit us to believing that eternal life would be desirable.

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.