This is an interesting prospect, and it appears to be a largely cultural phenomenon. For centuries, the basic familial unit has been bi-parental. This applies primarily in the West, however. Other cultures, such as Islam or certain sects of Hindu, practice polygyny or polyandry. Often it is one person of one gender with multiples of the other—ex: one man and three women, or one woman and three men. I have not yet heard of a situation where three men and two women are all married to each other. As such, we find ourselves dealing with the situation of what could be determined “standard” polygamy—where one person has multiple spouses, but the spouses have no legal relation to each other.
For a number of reasons, legalized polygamy may cause some serious issues, not least of which is the enormous potential for abuse. Health insurance benefits and other things would probably skyrocket in price were it to become widespread—or, husbands or wives might have to pick which of their spouses were covered, depending on the plan in question. If it were reversed, however, and at least two of the multiple wives or husbands of the individual man or woman were to have health insurance which covers the spouse, who helps out there? Those are technical issues, however. It gets even messier if we speak of polyamory in a different context—that of gay marriage.
Let’s say, for instance, that two men decide to get married. They develop a mutual attraction to a third party, who is in turn attracted to both of them. Could both the men marry this third party, thus resulting in a very literal love triangle? What would happen if the triangle were to break in any given part? If A married B and then both of them married C, what happens if A and C were divorced but B and C were still married while A and B were still married? What if there are children involved? And so on. This is where polyamory not only becomes wildly impractical, it seems illogical. Why bother fighting for the right to marry in the first place if you don’t plan to be exclusive?
A quick poll of my friends about polyamory had all of them—from all across the political spectrum—rather unsettled about the idea. There is something deeply ingrained in the nature of people where we are inherently monogamous. One of my friends suggested that polyamory would be seen as a lack of commitment, which kind of defeats the entire purpose of marriage as “exclusive.” This idea is backed up by the chemistry of sex: it releases oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” which makes the partners feel close and “special” to each other. (It’s the same hormone which allows mothers to bond with their children shortly after childbirth.) So while a few people may be in favour of polyamory, I can’t see it presenting itself in the legal sphere—or succeeding at legalization, if it did—any time soon due to the “squick factor” which is prevalent.
This question is difficult to answer because, as a rational person, I could possibly suggest that it may be permissible to end a life in the event of great suffering or a desire for suicide. Were I particularly pragmatic-to-a-fault, I also might suggest the ending of life if the cost of maintaining that life was simply too much to possibly be reduced by what little societal contribution they may have left. On the flip side, however, were it to be my mother/father/sister/cousin/best friend/etc in that position, I suspect I would argue that it is not permissible to end a life, no matter what, and I would do everything possible to keep them alive. The utilitarian view of worth according to contribution is a common one, but more easily trumped by the humanist view of worth according to people-hood, often described by Christians as “human dignity.”
Because this is such a touchy question, I have difficulty making sweeping and broad statements about this decision. It would be better determined on a case-by-case basis. Actively killing someone—even if they want to die—rings too much of murder and doesn’t sit well with me. Allowing them to die, however, provided they are aware of the situation and made comfortable, is different because there is no action being made to speed up the dying process. It then gives the dying person a chance to get his or her affairs in order and to milk the last drops out of life by spending it with people he or she loves—time which becomes more valuable the less of it there is.
To be completely honest, I would try to talk a friend or family member out of suicide no matter what age they were or what suffering they were experiencing. I’d miss them too much—and there are too many fun and wonderful moments to create before we die. Even people undergoing extreme suffering still find time to enjoy things in life. If they don’t, they lose the will to live and will probably die of their own accord. There are extreme circumstances in which it may be permissible to end a life, but I am a person much too attached to other people to comfortably say, “yes, kill that person.” I would personally rather have more time to spend with that person. Even if it means watching them die, I would like to help him or her enjoy the last of his or her life as comfortably as possible and try to “greet death as an old friend,” to steal a phrase from Harry Potter.
Definitely cyberpunk. It’s really cool to see how authors like William Gibson or Neal Stephenson imagine the future of humanity will be, especially with all the virtual reality and cybernetic advancements. It’s amazing to think about what humans can do, given the right tools and resources. At the same time, though, it’s not the bubbly future of the 50s and reminds us that mankind can be monstrous in certain ways. The dark side of cyberpunk makes you question the definition of humanity—where does man stop being man and start becoming animal or machine? Is there a difference between the two? Where does machine stop being machine and start being man? Does it? Can it? Cyberpunk is inherently futuristic but goes hand-in-hand with dystopia, which is where I fear the world is headed right now.