When Is It Right to Take a Life?

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

In previous posts, we have discussed when human life begins, what the purpose of life is and some of the implications surrounding the cloning of humans and the development of artificial human embryos. One of the questions we have yet to answer is, when is it right to end a life? This is a complex and rather controversial question as it hinges on the question of what a life is worth. Thus, before we can answer when it is right to end a life, we must first answer, what is the value of life?

The Value of Life

In ‘The Code’, we touch on this in Chapter 10 – The Self, where it is held that life has an inherent equality of value. I.e., the life of an ant is equivalent in the universal schema to the life of a man as both contribute to the continuation of life universal in their own way. This is not to say that either the ant or the man would or should consider the other as being as valuable as themselves or another of their own kind. Rather, each being, due to the equality of their personal value, is justified in prioritizing their families, their survival and the achievement of their purpose over that of other beings. In essence, this means that the ant’s right to life is the same as the man’s. With the value, each being assigns to others based on their perception of their self-interest in the achievement of the purpose of life.

If both the ant and the man were to compete for survival, then both would have equal right to strive to survive. If it were necessary for one to kill the other to survive, then that would be right no matter who was to win. This equality between beings naturally is not limited to inter-species conflicts but holds within species as well. Every person has the same inherent value regardless of birth, wealth, education, profession, gender, etc. However, their relative value differs depending on the perspective of the perceiver (see Chapter 18 – Perpsctivism and Morality). Thus, for you, your family and yourself have absolute precedence, while to me (if we are strangers), you and your family’s survival may be a matter of indifference and vice versa. Thus, as with the previous example, if your families, communities or own long-term survival required that another person be harmed or killed, then that would be right for you to do so.

The Morality of Killing

This position is central to the moral code expressed in Codist thought. Which, in its essence, boils down to ‘what is necessary for the survival of your family is right, and what harms your family’s survival is wrong’. Killing even of one’s own species is thus a neutral act. In that it is not the killing that has moral value but rather the consequences or lack of consequences of killing.

This position can be illustrated by the example of killing a chicken. If you were to kill a chicken, the moral correctness or incorrectness of the action would depend on a couple of factors. One, if killing the chicken would be a net benefit to your family’s survival, and two, if the chicken belonged to you. To determine the correct action, we should utilise the Moral Decision-Making Framework’ (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Moral Decision Making Framework

Using this system, we examine how the choice would affect our family’s long-term interests. We ask how killing the chicken (or any other decision) would affect our family and our community. If it harms either one of them, we are prohibited from doing so unless it is essential.

Figure 2: MDMF Killing a CHicken

In the case of the chicken, unless it’s a pet, some kind of endangered chicken or you’d be stealing it, it is likely beneficial for you to kill and eat it. Thus, it is right for you to do so. The same process holds in the case of a human being or any other being. The rightness or wrongness of killing them is dependent on the circumstances and the consequences not on the act itself. Therefore, to answer the question, ‘when is it right to end a life?’, we need to know and examine the consequences of ending that life to determine how ending it will affect our families, our communities and ourselves. The consideration of this equation will provide the answer to the moral permissibility of euthanasia, abortion, killing of all kinds in war and the production and use of animal products to name just a few. Issues we will discuss another time.

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