[cw: death, suffering, mention of torture]
There’s an argument made by wild-animal welfare EAs that bothers me. It points to the fact that nearly all deaths in nature are horrible. Torn apart by predators, or eaten from inside by parasites, or starving to death. This near-100%-level of torturous death is supposed to be a reason to be against allowing wildlife to continue in its current (“natural”) state.
Immediately I think of the deliberate torture-deaths humans have inflicted on each other in history. And as disgusting and stomach-churning as they are, I always think “at least the victims will never remember or feel that pain, after the minutes/hours of horror are over.” It is a small mercy, but really… once someone is dead, the pain doesn’t matter to them anymore.
In fact, once any pain is passed, the pain itself doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve gone through two surgeries with very painful recovery periods. I distinctly remember thinking “This is horrific. I can’t take this pain. Please, someone make it stop.” But just a few days after it was over, the memory was fading. Today I literally can’t remember the pain at all. I only remember having hated it.
The real disutility of pain comes from the after-effects. The loss of physical ability, in the case of crippling injury. The humiliation and fear of additional pain, in case of attacks by others. The psychological trauma, that continues to haunt for years afterwards. But in cases where these don’t apply, the pain is basically valueless once it has passed. Ask someone who’s had a corrective surgery with good consequences. Ask someone who’s given birth.
The kind of pain that matters is the pain that lingers. The depression that hurts you every single day of your life and won’t get better. The lasting injury that causes you pain every time you put weight on your left ankle.
The pain that you feel at death is pain that cannot linger, because there is no one left to feel it. It’s still horrific while it’s happening, but once it’s over it doesn’t have any lasting effects.
And since the pain of death is the least lasting, and thus least important sort of pain, I find it to be basically valueless to determining if a life was worth living. I discount claims that deaths in nature are painful and horrific, so we should intervene. I would base any opinion on the necessity of intervention on how the pain/pleasure balance comes out through out an animal’s life *leading up to* the death itself. If the majority of a life is basically non-torturous, with food-finding games, and feasting when finding a major score, and the comfort of familiar animals/settings, punctuated with exciting flights from danger and occasional bouts of sickness or hunger… well, that’s not necessarily a bad life.
(Of note, none of these arguments apply to factory farming, which gives animals a life of torture in awful conditions.)
Maybe non-domesticated animals do, in general, have awful lives. But it probably varies by species and even by location, and would require actual metrics and research. Simply pointing out that their deaths are painful doesn’t sway me at all.