The Morality of Killing Zombies
Zombies: To Kill or not to Kill Aneet Bains Philosophy 106 Zombies are pervasive in our contemporary culture; whether they are terrorizing attractive actors in movies or television shows, or they are being meticulously detailed in comics and books, zombies seem to have invaded the popular mediums of entertainment. To be clear, when I refer to zombies I am alluding to the reanimated undead corpses that are fueled only by their will to eat flesh, preferably human, and have absolutely no rational will or judgment.
The assimilation of zombies into our culture has lead to many discussion topics being raised about the moral implications of the imminent “zombie apocalypse”. Besides the obvious question of whether killing zombies is ethical, there lies a much more complex issue: should we euthanize someone who has been bitten by a zombie? The definition of euthanasia I am using is the hastening of someone’s death to avoid pain or suffering.
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I believe that euthanizing someone who has been bitten by a zombie is morally permissible, and I argue that position using Utilitarianism and the central tenets of Brock’s essay on Euthanasia. After a person has been infected by a zombie, it does not take long for them, or their group, to realize what has to be done. Now the infected person can react in one of two ways. One option is that they understand what needs to be done and accept the fact that they have to die for the good of the group.
The second, more egotistical, option is that the infected person decides their life is still worth living for however long they have left and refuse to be put down. For now, I will address the second option and show how killing that person, who is unwilling to die, is still within the ethical parameters laid forth by Utilitarianism. The basic concept of Utilitarianism can be understood through these adages: “the greatest good for the greatest number of people” and “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.
While these are an easy way to convey the fundamental idea of Utilitarianism, they fail to truly capture its essence and intricacies. A good definition is that Utilitarianism suggests that an act is morally right if the action would produce the most net happiness of all of the choices available. With the question being whether it is ethical to euthanize someone if a zombie has bitten them, after ruminating on the definition of Utilitarianism it becomes clearer as to why killing that person is not too much of a moral quandary.
It is difficult to argue the first option, being that we allow the infected person to live out the remainder of their life, cage them up, watch them suffer through the grueling process of becoming a zombie, and eventually have to shoot their head off, would maximize net happiness. There are two choices available, either killing the infected person right away, or respecting their wishes and letting them live out their life. Utilitarianism clearly states however that our happiness is equal to everyone else’s individual happiness, which means that one person’s wishes do not hold more weight or influence than another’s.
Which is why the fact that the infected person decides they would be much happier staying alive is inconsequential in the final decision since everyone else would be much more unhappy and uneasy having to always be on guard to make sure that the infected has not become a full zombie yet. Utilitarianism is also based around the fact that we can make reasonable predictions about the future. The more we know, the more accurately we can predict essentially. Being able to make reasonable predictions is essential if we are to assume that an action will lead to maximizing net happiness.
Through media or experience we know that if someone gets bitten by a zombie, they will eventually become a zombie themself, losing any part of their personality that defined them as a unique individual. Having that knowledge makes it all the easier the euthanize an infected person, even against their will, because we know letting them live will be counter-productive for maximizing happiness. Being a teleological theory, Utilitarianism cares only about the consequences in determining the rightness or wrongness of an act. In this case, the consequence with the most net happiness is if the infected person is euthanized.
After reflecting on the arguments made above, we can see that by following the tenets of Utilitarianism, it is perfectly ethical to euthanize a person who has been bitten by a zombie, even if they would rather live. Violating the autonomy of a person who has been bitten by a zombie can be done for the same reasons that we encroach on the autonomy of suicidal or homicidal people. It is all done in the name of safety. For the suicidal person, we are trying to keep them safe from themselves, and for the homicidal person, we are trying to keep society safe.
Of course, a future zombie is more similar to a homicidal person than a suicidal person, but safety is still the main concern. If the infected person became a zombie, it has the potential to wreak complete havoc on the group and kill many people before someone manages to kill it. For that potential alone, it does not make sense to let a person who has been bitten live for too long. Not to say that anything that has the potential to kill humans should be immediately killed. Bears and mountain lions can have the potential to kill, but that is not what their entire existence is based upon.
Animals, though dangerous, have activities and families of their own, and many never interact with a single human their entire life. Also, bears and mountain lions only attack humans if they feel threatened, so the responsibility usually rests on our shoulders to know whether there are dangerous animals in the area we are in. The biggest difference between zombies and dangerous animals is that animals do not walk around hunting for humans to eat, nor is their entire existence predicated on consuming flesh.
The fact that they are capable of pain, suffering, and loss gives the lives of animals more moral value than zombies, and animals cannot be killed just because they are a potential threat to humans. If something’s life is based purely on killing humans then they should be killed. If I find a man-eating monster that has just been born, it hasn’t killed anyone yet, but I still have a moral duty to make sure it dies because the second it gets the chance it will kill someone, since that is what it is programmed to do. I would be an accomplice in all the deaths that it causes because I did not stop it when I could.
A creature like that, with no rational thought and only a hunger to kill humans, cannot be treated with the same rights we extend to rational beings; namely the right to be innocent until it commits an offense. If everyone knew what Hitler was going to do when he was born, it is ridiculous to think that we would have waited for him to commit his atrocities and then punished him. For the same reason, we cannot wait until a man-eating monster or an infected person commit their first offense before we punish them. The alternative, of letting the bitten person live out their life and shooting hem quickly when they die before they become a zombie, is not possible because it is not very practical when every day is a fight for your life. Choosing that option means that the infected person would have to be watched at all times by an armed guard. It is doubtful that most people in the zombie apocalypse would stay in the same place for long, so while they are trying to safely change locations, they would have the compounded worry of continuously checking up on the infected person to make sure that they aren’t about to die and come back as a zombie.
It would serve plainly to add more tension and stress on people that are already maxed out on both. Not to mention that the decision to let that person alive would probably not be unanimous, which would again serve to increase the uneasiness and hostility of everyone in the group. It completely goes against Utilitarian values to keep an infected person alive until they die and become a zombie. The other possible reaction of an infected person is that they would understand what needs to be done and realize that their self-sacrifice is for the good of the group.
The infected group member rationally deciding and willing to have his life taken would be characterized as voluntary active euthanasia, which Brock argues is morally permissible in his essay on Euthanasia. The arguments against this would be of course that is it actually euthanasia or just assisted suicide, and that it is still wrong to take a human being’s life, no matter the circumstance. Addressing the first concern, assisted suicide is illegal in a vast majority of the states and looked upon as morally reprehensible. I believe that is an error in gross generalization, since most people opposed to it consider it to be analogous to murder.
Either way, killing an infected person is not assisted suicide, but rather voluntary active euthanasia because suicide implies the person would be killing themselves and euthanasia involves a rational person giving another person the right to end their life. Allowing someone to exercise their autonomy, especially when it does not infringe upon anyone else’s, cannot be considered an unethical or immoral act. Having the ability to make our own decisions is one of the most intrinsically valuable things we have in our lives, and should be protected and promoted at any chance.
Letting someone who has been infected by a zombie be euthanized only serves to emphasize autonomy since the choice is completely theirs, and harm does not befall anyone else. Brock also argues that if a person’s life has become of such poor quality that it is not worth living anymore than it is better to end their life early. There is no arguing the fact that if you have been bitten by a zombie and will eventually become a zombie yourself, your life has definitely taken a plunge in quality.
It seems much more humane to just allow the person to be euthanized than have to endure to pain and suffering of having to lose themselves and become a zombie. This is just one of the benefits of euthanasia that are fulfilled. We also respect self-determination, and people receive comfort knowing that there is an option other than ending up a zombie. Voluntary active euthanasia of an infected victim would also still satisfy many of the safeguards that stop it from becoming involuntary euthanasia.
The victim would be clear and well informed of their situation, their will and desire for euthanasia would be stable, and no other options are truly possible, and finally the victim would be giving rational consent to have their life ended early. Considering it fulfills these safeguards and cannot be considered murder, euthanizing an infected person seems morally acceptable. People who stand on the other side of the fence on this topic would argue using a combination of ethics of care and Kantianism. Ethics of care’s main concern is about fostering and supporting caring relationships.
It defines caring relationships as those in which two people are engrossed in each other’s lives. So considering that the person who gets bit is your mother, father, husband, wife, or child, having to kill them seems to do the opposite of supporting a caring relationship. Logistically, for a relationship to exist both people need to be alive. To this argument I would say that since the path the invested person was on lead them to becoming a zombie, killing them does not destroy a caring relationship any more than if they died from disease or natural causes.
Zombies by definition have no rational thoughts, memories, or emotions, all necessary qualities required to be a human individual. The person they would be losing would not be the same person after they became a zombie, so there would be no caring relationship to speak of since we cannot be engrossed in a stranger’s life. It also leaves their relationship in a much better state if the infected person willingly gives up his or her life for the sake of the group, because then he or she can be remembered as a hero, or someone who died to protect those they loved.
This thought fosters a much better memory of the infected person than if they were killed against their will because they selfishly wanted to live out the rest of their life, not taking into consideration what is best for the group. Considering the instance in which the infected person does not want to die, a Kantian would argue that our act was immoral since we used people merely as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves, which contradicts the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative.
Kantianism is all about the act, and in euthanizing an infected person our act was immoral since we did not respect the infected person’s wishes and ignored their autonomy. To that I would say that the Categorical Imperative only extends to rational beings and being bitten by a zombie makes you far from rational so it does not matter if they were used as a means to an end. The ubiquity of zombies in our culture and how easily they have assimilated into our society means that they are entrenched in all aspects of our life, including philosophy.
The idea of zombies, from conceivability to the morality concerning their demise, has been integrated into many basic philosophical and ethical questions. My question was if it is morally acceptable to euthanize someone if a zombie has bitten them. If we examine people with suicidal or homicidal tendencies, then we see that our society treats these people with a different set of morals and rules than any normal person. We infringe on their autonomy in the name of safety; it may be safety for them or safety for society.
If we apply the same logic to zombies, then they too should be held to different rules than innocent people because they pose a threat to humanity. I broke up my argument into two questions, the first dealing with a person who has been bitten and doesn’t want to die, and the second considering a person who has been bitten and understands dying is in the best interest for the group as a whole. The first argument is supported by Utilitarianism because it takes net happiness into regard, not just the preference of one person. Overall, the group would be much happier if the infected person was killed right away.
Using Brock’s essay on Euthanasia I supported my argument for the second question stating that it is morally permissible to kill someone who has been bitten by a zombie and is willing to die, because it is very similar to voluntary active euthanasia. Combining the ethical values and philosophies behind Utilitarianism and Brock’s essay on Euthanasia, I can comfortably say that in most situations it is perfectly within your moral liberties to euthanize an infected person. Works Cited Kirk, Robert. “Zombies. ” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. lt;http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/zombies/>. Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. “Consequentialism. ” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/consequentialism/>. Denis, Lara. “Kant and Hume on Morality. ” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 26 Mar. 2008. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/kant-hume-morality/>. Gracyk, Theodore. “Dan Brock – “Voluntary Active Euthanasia”” 25 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <http://web. mnstate. edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20115/Brock-on-Euthanasia. htm>.