The philosophy of death

This article raised an interesting philosophical dilemma for me. Which species can we willingly exterminate?

In relation to the guinea worm, most people would have no trouble at all in condemning it to extinction – it’s the stuff of nightmares, but what about other parasites?

Malaria kills approximately one million children every year, surely it would be good and right to eradicate this disease. But what do you eradicate? If the only way to get rid of the malarial parasite is to get rid of the mosquito carrying it then is that still okay?

They obviously thought it was in the near past when they tried to get rid of the disease with DTD. However, the mosquito is as much a victim of the parasite as we are, it’s an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. But the mosquito is still a parasite which sucks our blood so does that make it fair game?

To complicate matters, the number of species that depend on mosquitoes for their existence must be huge. Do we take into account the effect that destroying their food source has or is the inadvertent extinction of co-dependent species acceptable collateral damage?

If we so readily destroy parasites, why stop there? Surely if we are looking at this problem from a human perspective then we can think of many creatures that make life hazardous and unpleasant for humans beings. Do we get rid of them as well? What about poisonous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, ants? What about plants?

Are we not all, in some way, parasites? Do we not all have to live off other species?

It has been suggested that parasites are a way of keeping the balance in nature; if one species becomes too dominant then parasites will take advantage of that imbalance through host specific infestations. So what about the plague of humans that is devouring the planet? Are AIDS and bird flu the new parasites to keep our numbers in check?

Is it okay to view the world from an anthropomorphic perspective? Is it just about us or is it about life in total?

Do we have the moral right to decide what lives and what dies? It is so easy to rationalise the answer in respect of the guinea worm but it is equally easy to go on and extrapolate the answer into genocide.

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