On the Morality of Immortality
Every living being carries the innate agenda to remain alive. That is core to the definition of life. Certainly we can find exceptions. First, we all die. Some animals prioritize reproduction over their own longevity, literally dying for their offspring to take root. Some humans even lose the will to live, which can shorten their lifespans in multiple ways. But despite the notable exceptions, it’s fair to say that our bodies would continue for as long as humanly possible. That’s their job. Death at a material level is the body finally losing its longstanding fight with Entropy, returning to dust and free energy.
Death and the possibility of immortality is not a new topic for me. One of my better short stories is squarely on that topic. But the question “what is long enough?” has taken on a new meaning lately. My mother is likely in her final weeks of life. Knowing her struggles adds a new dimension to the question — more about the quality of any life than quantity. It is tragic that our laws in these times are often more humane to animals than people.
But despite our personal wishes at any time, as a simple matter of fact that at this point in history, every living being eventually ceases to live, whether by choice, by clock, or by the actions of others. Any options to exist beyond our natural term limits have thus far been left to the imagination.
And boy do we imagine.
Consider all the fictional “shadow lords” seeking to destroy vast swaths of life. Consider all the evil geniuses trying gain immortality at some obscene cost to everyone else. Consider, for a moment, that either result would mean the evil one(s) would continue to exist while whomever they fear, loathe, or devalue dies out. This anti-social end goal of lone survival represents perhaps the ultimate selfishness that we can imagine.
In Star Wars, for example, the Emperor employs his vast knowledge of the Force to survive his body’s natural death, including the idea of taking a younger body (or two) for a spin. Marvel’s Thanos seeks to cull 50% of all beings, as a misguided gift to the living. In the gritty Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan gains immense power (including immortality) by accident…