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Lets say that a method has been discovered to transfer the 'life-force' from one individual to another, killing the donor but providing the recipient with healing and an extended life. The healthier and younger the donor is the more life is transferred to the recipient. It is not possible to do a partial transfer from a donor, a donor must die to transfer their life energy.

The possibility of killing other's to gain eternal youth is obvious, but lets assume the government is aware of this and has harsh laws to prevent this. It also requires specialty tools to do that are hard enough to make that no individual is likely to be able to create their own in secret. There is still an black market trying to gain eternal youth this way, but it's limited and out of scope for this question.

My question is what can the government do to make ethical use of this ability? That is to say is there any way a government can make limited use of ability to kill one person to save another in an ethical manner that would be supported by the citizens as a whole and not involve regular callous killing of 'undesirables' just to use their life-energy? I'm also interested in what policies and ethical guidelines the government may need to put in place to prevent abuse of authorized methods or any other 'slippery slop' sort of situation where people start expanding the list of acceptable uses or otherwise abuse the system in morally questionable ways?

Some specifics of how the transfer works.

  • Lifeforce must be transferred from recipient(s) to donor(s) at the time of donor death, there is not 'bottling' lifeforce for later use. Similarly recipient(s) and donor(s) must be in the same location to do the transfer
  • A Recipient's can have the the aging process 'healed', effectively de-aging them until they reach their optimal healthy age (~21) as they gain lifeforce.
  • Lifeforce transfer is not 100% efficient, there will always be some lost in lifeforce during the transfer. Meaning killing a healthy donor to de-age a healthy recipient will result in a net lose in years lived across the two.
  • It's more efficient to heal serious injuries or illness then to simply reverse aging in regards to extending life of an individual using lifeforce of another
  • To avoid situations of 'wasting' lifeforce of a healthy donor it's possible to transfer the captured energy to more then one recipient at a time
  • Life-force can only be transferred between similar organisms. So you have to kill a human to heal a human, you can't use a cow as the donor. Though you could kill a cow to heal a different cow if you wanted.

So far I have thought of the potential area's that a government may consider using this ability. I'm interested in both other areas I missed, any potential issues with the listed issues, and more general policies on how to avoid abuse of this ability (roughly listed from less to more controversial)

  • Capturing lifeforce when pulling the plug on a permanently comatose or brain-dead individual.
  • Allowing multuple individuals diagnosed with terminal illness to join a 'death lottery' where one or more of the lottery member's will be killed to heal the terminal condition of another member of the lottery. Obviously it would be randomly selected who was healed and who was killed, and it would be up to the individual if they wanted to join such a lottery or not.
  • Healing a beloved pet with the lifeforce of another pet that is going to be euthanized (though, will this option be worth the risk of authorizing veterinarians to posses such easily abused equipment?)
  • Using the lifeforce of criminal who received a death penalty to heal terminal individuals, likely using a lottery system to pick recipients?
  • Possibly assisted suicide, in limited cases after appropriate therapeutic consulting to ensure individual is in right mind and can't be talked out of suicide etc. This may require it's own question.
  • Abortions, just to get even more controversial.
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closed as primarily opinion-based by user535733, ShadoCat, Shadowzee, 011358 smell, Frostfyre May 22 at 12:18

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ What is the technological level? This is fairly important indicator if what said civilization will find ethically acceptable. $\endgroup$ – John May 21 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Is this magic or technology? $\endgroup$ – DJ Spicy Deluxe May 21 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @DJSpicyDeluxe it's magi-tech, in that it's technically magic, but magic sufficiently analyzed as to be used more like technology. $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 21 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to close: The question seems like a variation of the classic Trolley Problem, which is an exercise in opinion-based ethical compromises. I enjoy the question, but feel that it is off-topic. $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 22 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'm VTC as opinion based. What is ethical varies with time, country and culture. What you deem ethical might be unethical to other people. For example, you can look at abortion and the movements against it or gay marriages and movements against it. Even things like veganism and animal rights delve into ethics. More historical examples might include things like slavery and attempts to destroy/integrate entire cultures (e.g. the Aboriginal people of Australia). Since this is your setting you can decide any method is ethical at all. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee May 22 at 5:27
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Wow, this is kind of a horrible question. (Horrible in the sense that horrible things can be done with this concept.) There are a few important questions you need to answer. I have personal views, but I'll try to keep them out of the answer, because I'm only giving you questions, given that the answers to these questions aren't easy.

Are you allowed to kill yourself and give your life force to someone else?

As it happens, this would be comparable to committing suicide for body parts, just a lot more universal. This is similar, in a sense, to the euthanasia argument. Currently, suicide is illegal in the USA. Euthanasia is a curious word because there are a few different types and it means a few different things to different people (active vs passive, etc.). Arguments for and against would fall alongside a Rationalist/Religious debate, most likely, given that most religions forbid suicide, even to save the life of someone else.

If the government kills you, do they get access to your life force?

This is a very important argument. As it currently stands, prisoners have a right to their corpse, and they must agree for it to be donated to science. (I'm making a lot of comparisons to donating body parts, it seems.) So, if a prisoner is on death row, can he say to donate his life force to a relative (which the relative may not even need) or to a rich dude offering to pay money to his relatives; or does the government get control over it.

How would triage apply to distributing life force?

I'd imagine there'd be a waiting list for this, and given that one body can be distributed to multiple people, would you give it to half a dozen mostly sick, or four really sick? Pick the four, and of the half a dozen, maybe three of them would survive, bringing the total up to seven. But maybe not. So, would you pick definitive numbers, or those who need it most and hope for the best?

Human factories

Not technically a question, but suppose you whipped up a massive batch of embryos but gave them a defect which stopped the brain from developing, giving you an army of human bodies with no minds. (Currently, you'd need to pay an army of surrogate mothers, but we aren't that far off from artificial wombs, especially if we don't care about brain development.) Is that ethical, given that you'll save human lives?

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One ethical way of using this is the case of someone finding out they have an incurable deadly disease and themselves wishing to donate their life energy to others.

Because you specified that a healthier, younger, donor will provide more energy people confronted with lethal diseases would be divided between confronting the disease for who knows how long for a chance of survival or donate their life as soon as possible while they are relatively healthy.

Also if you make it so equipment wildly varies depending on the species you want to transfer life you can still have the veterinarians have 'em. After all not all life force is exactly the same or people would just sacrifice an adult bull to save, like, three terminal patients.

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The answer to this question heavily depends on the ethical theories to which your hypothetical society subscribes. One answer here (@Ash) has already touched on individualistic utilitarianism. If your society is a little more utopian, they might subscribe to community utilitarianism (but the common irony of attempting to do what's best for everyone at once is that nobody knows what's best for everyone at once; an imaginative person will use this excuse to justify nearly anything).

If your society culturally accepts deontological ethics, they may derive the good from some sort of duty -- but again, duty to what? and you'll have to define what it means to be dutiful and honorable. In this case, perhaps people readily volunteer to donate their lifeforce (or the lifeforce of their children) to the nation's military in time of need.

On the other hand, if your society normalizes Virtue Ethics, you may only need to consider the ethical theory subscribed-to by the individual who authorizes or carries-out the lifeforce-transfer, which may differ from the theories of everyone else, but the most important thing is that he acted in integrity with respect to his own theories about virtue. In this case, the choice about whether to take someone's lifeforce and what to do with it may be left in the hands of individual doctors, and the justifiability of their actions might be tried in a court of public opinion on a case-by-case basis.

Another one is Ethics of Care (I'm just going down a list of normative ethical theories right now), wherein what matters is that you are doing something for an individual in need. In this case, perhaps the only justifiable case would be for a person to voluntarily donate his own life-force to a dying neighbor.

A consequentialist society may allow for transfer of life-force in nearly any circumstance, but retroactively penalize the person who performed the transfer, if the person healed causes some public harm later.

I could keep going down the list, but without sounding like a Moral Relativist (there's another one where anything goes), what matters is the source from which your society derives its thoughts about morality, and if you want that source to project a culture with uniform opinions about morality, then the public perceptions of that source's authority must also be maintained. The danger here is that the source, if it is a human mind or some collection of human minds, is, by definition, above the law, because the law is derived from that source -- everything the source does is right, because right is defined by the source. So, if "right" is defined by popular opinion, then all atrocities which were perpetrated by public groups (slavery, holocaust, etc), were right in those places at those times. A common solution to this is found in the power of a religious book -- once it is written, it's from God, and so no human is above it.

Now, to close this out, just in case a person says "I just want to know what would be considered ethical in the U.S.": In the case of American ethics, there is literally no viable answer to your question. For example, you mentioned abortion. Just read recent headlines from around the States: abortion is legal, and then it's not, and then it is, and then it's not. It's the baby's body, it's the mother's body, it's murder, it's cells, etc.. In America, everything and nothing is ethical, and so the answer to your question really depends on who holds the seats in public office.

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Co-opt Existing Ethics regarding the Organ Trade

I realize that what you're asking is not technically the same as organ transplantation, however, your question is getting at the heart of the debate over the same ethical questions regarding modern organ transplantation. While the mechanism is certainly different, and there are some restrictions, it shouldn't change the ethics of the situation.

You're in luck in this regard because there are so many opinions and policies for this question, you can just pick the one that you like best for your government and society. Also, if there are multiple governments it is entirely plausible for them to have different laws if it is useful to your story.

Some of the issues that you'll want to address are:

  1. Consent (Opt-in vs. Opt-out)
  2. Recipient Selection (economics)
  3. Compensation for the families of the dying
  4. Compensation for the middle men

All you need to do is look at how different governments handle these issues for transplantation (specifically with regard to harvesting from a nearly dead patient), and chose whichever one fits your story best.

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@boxcartenant and @Ash had given excellent examples already, but I have a little bit to add. If this lifeforce transfer is already established in the society, and not just emergent, you are putting the cart before the horse. It is so significant and changing the most significant core of human existence, and redefining what is life and what is power, that the ethics will be defined by the usage of lifeforce transfer and not the vice versa.

There will not be, and there could not be a single 'ethical' position on how to use it. There are three points of contention here - whether the agreement of the donor is necessary, wherever the agreement of recipient is necessary and who gets to implement the transfer. There will be attempts to centralize it and bring it under the government oversight, the attempts to implement it independently of the government, accusation of corruption and unfairness, black market, exploitation and alienation.

Even the most 'ethical' in our contemporary view model, when the free agreement of both parties is necessary, and the implementing party doesn't profit by it, is still hugely problematic. What if agreement was given under duress, there was blackmail or threat to the family of the donor.

In the end, I want to say that the question will be highly divisive, the ways the different governments will implement it will differ significantly, and governments will rise and fall because of it.

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I don't think this constitutes a full answer but it's it is the best I've got for you right now:

Utilitarianism is going to define the legal use of this ability, illegal use too but on an individual "whatever is of use to me" basis rather than society-wide considerations. The question really becomes, as it usually does when you look at utilitarianism for more than thirty seconds, "who's utility?" (or who's ethics) a dictatorial or oligarchic ruling elite are likely to put self-serving rules in place whereby they get the cream, killing citizens en masse on some excuse, and everyone else dies with no access to life extension. Even democracies are going to face problems with relative ethics and societal logic versus individual right to life. The Trolley Problem comes to mind except playing out on a grand scale every minute of every day.

Hit me up in comments about anything else you want me to cover, I'll be off-site soon for a while but I'll revisit when I have time.

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If you haven't read Larry Niven's works extensively, now would be a good time. In one subset of his stories, transplantation became simple, and even moving a brain from one body to another is doable.

Since organs for transplant would always be in short supply, and the demand kept growing, society eventually voted the death penalty in for more and more crimes (rape, kidnapping, repeated traffic offenses, etc.) until supply met demand. This would definitely seem to apply to this case as well.

Criminal kidnapping for forced life transfers would be a thing as well. Gangs of specially trained people would be hired to collect a young person to heal an old person of age. But thinking about it, its more likely that the smart gangs would go after old, single people living alone, to provide small boosts to their clients so that the rejuvenation wouldn't be noticeable. Alzheimers homes / dementia victim homes / nursing homes would also be a good source of people. And some of these facilities would have direct connections with the underworld suppliers of life.

If machines can be made relatively small, then you could find bootleg life transfer machines in rescue vehicles and locations, used to transfer life force into the rescuers when death from an accident is inevitable and rapid (possibly making rescuer jobs, such as firefighters, police, paramedic ambulance crews, and emergency room personnel much higher in demand).

Eventually, someone would have the bright idea of "baby farming", especially if cloning of humans had been perfected (or nearly so). This is actually an area that could be government sponsored. Also, if a cloned fetus, not viable yet, could be used for this purpose, the number of people objecting would be reduced, and additional life (effective immortality) would be a commodity, leading to so many other cultural changes.

It is also possible in some cultures that "life wars", where you kidnap your opponents and steal their life, would happen, especially between generational enemies.

There would also be active research into implantable devices that block the life transfer, especially ones that would instantly kill a person if they were removed. This would be a double deterrent to kidnapping for life, as well as life wars.

I have to end now, but there are so many more things to consider. I think that there is no question that either the cultures involved would be tending towards chaos / disruption / lawlessness if the invention was relatively new, or almost entirely different if the invention had been around for a while. For a good example of a culture almost totally changed by one single development, see Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination".

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I think one possibility that you can look into is to utilize Capital punishment. Once a person is given a death penalty for a crime, the life energy can be transferred to the victim(s). If the death penalty is for killing someone, then the energy can be given to the victim's family member(s). Who is going to receive the energy can be declared as a part of the will or testament by the victim. In the case, the victim has no such clause in the testament, the government can possibly choose to help people with a critical illness.

This idea is built on the premise that the death penalty is legal. Although whether it is ethical or not I don't have much information to argue. But I feel this can be somewhat acceptable to society.

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