The Walking Dead, saison 1

Okay, so the chances of a real zombie apocalypse happening are pretty slim, but if it did it would raise some interesting questions for Christians. For instance, on tonight’s season finale of The Walking Dead, one of the characters who has been with the show since episode one finally gets bitten, and instead of making someone else kill them after they turn, asks for a gun so they can put a bullet through their own head.

In a non-zombie filled world, and assuming there are no mental issues involved, blowing your own brains out would be a clear case of suicide. And as the Catechism points out, this is clearly not allowed because “suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.”

But what about once you add zombies to the equation? In the world of The Walking Dead, unless you manage to chop off the compromised limb within a minute or so, a zombie bite is a guaranteed death sentence. And in the case of tonight’s episode, the character in question was bitten in the neck, so amputation was not an option. That means without a doubt this character was going to die, turn into a zombie, and immediately attack any living person in the room. So, under those circumstances, was it moral or immoral for this character to take their own life?

Alas, as much as I’ve searched, I can’t find anything addressing zombie apocalypse ethics in the Catechism, and I don’t suppose we’re going to a bishop’s ruling on this question anytime soon. That being the case, I’ll go ahead and take a shot at it (so to speak) myself. According to the Catechism, “The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts. The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself… In contrast to the object, the intention resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action… [however] a good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means… The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.”

So let’s see. If I’m reading things correctly, in this situation the intention is to protect others, which is inarguably a good thing, however, the moral object (the end towards which the chosen act is inherently directed) would be the extinguishing of one’s own life, which is a grave sin. I’d say the circumstances obviously diminish the culpability of the person pulling the trigger, but are they enough to make the action a moral one? Before we make a decision, let’s throw in one more wrinkle. The Catechism has this to say about defense. “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.” Given that, perhaps the first question to answer is, since returning as a zombie would obviously endanger others, could shooting yourself in the head actually be considered a legitimate act of defense of others, or would it still be considered suicide (and therefore immoral) because there’s always the possibility someone else could finish off your zombified corpse before it harms anybody?

Well, I’m not the Pope, but in this case, I think that personally I would rather err on the side of mercy and say that if someone in that particular circumstance felt it necessary to take their own life for the safety of the group, God would probably go easy on them. He tends to do that after all.

So, anybody got any ideas on this one?

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