A Journal for Western Man

 

 

 

On the Necessary Symbiosis between Length and

 Quality of Life

G. Stolyarov II

Issue LXIV- June 28, 2006

 

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Statement of Policy

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I seek here to refute the mistaken assumption that length of life and quality of life can ever be antagonistic. Let us presume a scenario: Person X is a productive, creative, active individual who has, for 70 years, pursued his values to the fullest, entirely in agreement with the ideal of a consistently rational and moral individual. At age 70, he enters a “persistent vegetative state” due to no fault of his own, and is not able to pursue nearly as many values as he was before. However, he still has some values open to him. I wrote of this in “A Principled and Fundamental Opposition to the Savage Murder of Terri Schiavo”: 

However, there is also value—inexhaustible value—in every breath one takes, every bit of food that nourishes one’s body, every instant at which one’s eyes are able to just observe the world around oneself. There is a value in having blood course through one’s veins, in having one’s heart beat and one’s lungs inhale and exhale—whether or not they are supported by a respirator. Even in the most piercing pain there is some marginal value, the value of knowing that one’s body is still responsive, still defiant against the perils that seek to undermine it. The sum of these values is less than what the average healthy individual can pursue, but it is a positive sum, nonetheless, separated by an immense gulf from the permanent zero which is death.

So let us say that Person X had obtained an extremely large quantity of values during his first 70 years (call this quantity “Q”). If he were to be terminated right away, the sum of the values attained during his life would be just Q. Let us assume that, given modern life support technologies, Person X can persist in his new impaired state for a long time (say, 20 years), and the much smaller amount of values he gains during that time is “q.” If we let Person X exist on life support, by the time he dies of senescence (or a gradual bodily deterioration that modern technology is not yet capable of averting), the sum of the values gained during his life is “Q+q.” Since q is a positive number (though we can dispute its magnitude relative to Q), Q+q > Q for all occasions. Thus, under these circumstances, it is always more valuable to lead a longer life than not.

It is true that when we take the whole lives of two different individuals into consideration, the longer life is not necessarily the more valuable. Mozart (who died at 35), for example, lived a far more valuable life than Josef Stalin (who died at 74). However, in the question of whether or not to terminate somebody on life support, we are talking about an individual who has already lived a certain amount of his life and cannot undo the values gained therein. There is no way to go back in time and destroy all the positive experiences an individual has had in the past. The question that lies before us is, do we allow that individual to continue to accumulate values, albeit at a much slower rate, in addition to the extremely valuable past that he has had, or do we arbitrarily cut off his life at a certain point because we in our relatively healthy states would not have been satisfied with the pace at which these values would have been accumulated in our own lives?

Some might contend that a person who is not conscious of his existence and incapable of making rational decisions is not truly alive and thus could be legitimately terminated by others. I disagree here again, though it is the subtle details that make this an issue of contention. Yes, reason and conscious choice are crucial aspects to a human being’s life, especially if he seeks to maximize the values gained. However, we should realize that the consequences of our rational decisions can be (and always are) delayed in time.  

Let us say that a person makes a conscious and rational choice to go to sleep after a day of hard work. The benefits of the choice are not simultaneous with the choice itself. When he is curled up in bed, enjoying the softness, warmth, and peace of rest, he is not thinking rationally about these benefits. He has almost no consciousness at all, for that matter. The delay in this situation is rather slight (several hours), but any decision has delayed outcomes, be it a matter of seconds or years (the only difference is degree).

From the example of sleep we can learn that to enjoy life and have a life worth living, it is not necessary to be either rational or conscious at every given moment. It is only necessary to have frequently been rational and conscious in the past and to make the best attempts to be rational and conscious in the future—given one’s capacities. That is, one should not spend all day in bed when one can rise and work. It is also necessary not to be irrational and not to try to act to the detriment of one’s consciousness. That is, one should avoid any deleterious habits.

Now, let us presume that a person has frequently been rational and conscious in the past, but a large fysical impediment prevents her from being deliberately rational or fully conscious in the future. Nonetheless, her body is still functioning. Her continued existence is the direct result of her past rationality and consciousness, which have kept her alive up to the point of the impediment. We may thus consider her remaining life as her payment—the delayed result of her past decisions to be rational and conscious. To disallow her the enjoyment of that reward, however scant it may be, is to sever reason from its consequences and thus render reason purposeless (since the process of reason does not have intrinsic value aside from the purposes it seeks and attains). This was the case of Terri Schiavo, who was tragically and unfortunately terminated in 2005. Terri Schiavo’s money—also earned by rational efforts—as well as her parents’ money, similarly earned, could also have its delayed consequences in the prolonging of Terri’s life.

If the reader wishes to avoid that particular case, let him consider any generic individual who has money left over due to past productive work. If he is let die now, he will not be able to use that money, period, thus preventing him from benefiting from some of his past rational decisions.

Those who favor the termination of the permanently unconscious mistakenly consider all states devoid of present explicit reason to be irrational or anti-rational. I do not think this to be true. The irrational (and anti-life) is whatever explicitly rejects or ignores reason when reason is accessible. There is a third state, the reason-neutral, in which an individual cannot survive consistently, unless supported by the consequences of past rational actions. However, this is not necessarily a bad state, as we all experience it to a degree and even hold it as a survival necessity (as in sleep, for example). This state in itself can be a value, however, as in sleep, which regenerates the functional capacity of the organism.

Furthermore—no matter what the state of an individual—improvement is always possible—though not immediately—given that one is alive, even if one is vegetative, like Terri Schiavo was. It matters little whether one could or could not recover given the present technological state, as technology is evolving rapidly, and we cannot possibly predict the opportunities for recovery that would be present in even five or ten years.

The logical extreme of the proposition that combating death is desirable is the proposition that combating death through any means is desirable. Moreover, this logical extreme entails the idea that it is desirable not only to try to cure conditions for which there is a chance for so-called “natural” recovery (a misnomer—all recoveries, technologically induced or not, are “natural”), but also conditions for which there is not. After all, prior to the development of modern surgical techniques, a bullet wound in the stomach was mortal. Prior to the advent of modern medicine, plagues and certain types of cancer were mortal. Should we have abstained from rendering these conditions easily curable? So, now, should we artificially draw the line at comas and vegetative states for some reason and declare that comas and vegetative states—which could be made curable through newly developed techniques in the future—should be allowed to continue to carry those afflicted by them away into oblivion?

Incidentally, the above was one argument used by the Schindlers— Terri Schiavo’s parents—to keep Terri on life support while waiting for modern medicine to develop more dramatic recovery techniques—not a long shot at all, as cell cloning could well lead to the regeneration of certain components of the brain within decades.

Life in any state always confers more values on an individual than non-life; life brings with it positive values, while non-life is an ethical zero. The values an individual is able to get out of life—even in a vegetative state—are the results of past rational choices that we are ethically obligated to respect to the extent that they have preserved the individual’s life. Furthermore, improvement is always possible for any individual who can be sustained indefinitely—however removed such improvement might be in the future. For these reasons, the length and quality of an individual’s life can never conflict, and nothing can justify artificially curtailing the duration of an innocent life.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue LXIV Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.

Visit PanAsianBiz for interesting perspectives on international business and current events in Russia and Asia. Dr. Bill Belew's blog especially addresses Asian countries' contributions to the emerging global economy. Dr. Belew also writes a blog on business in China - ZhongHuaRising - business in Japan - RisingSunofNihon - and business education - TheBizofKnowledge.

 

 

 

 

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