Recently the question has crept back up on me, so I've been wondering what would happen if we couldn't die? Immortality sounds great, but it gets dark when you really think about it. Suffering could be infinite. Imagine you're locked in a metal box or a dank dungeon with no way out. Or paralysed with no way to move. Just infinite suffering with no release. Or imagine an even more abstract scenario - you get pulverised to dust by an asteroid, or chopped into a million disparate parts by a thousand tiny knifes - yet still no death.
When we think about death in this sense it becomes our 'get out of jail free' card. It's something of a mercy.
I think of the Bob Dylan line from 'Precious Angel';
When men will beg God to kill them and they won't be able to dieOr the Leonardo da Vinci quote;
As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death
Of course, the answer to all this would then be, "Why would God create a world where people can suffer in the first place?" I'll leave that question for another day though :p
But going back to the death-as-mercy idea one thing that I think might illustrate this to be true is capture shock. This is where animals die simply due to the stress of being captured in a cage and trapped. It's not uncommon for monkeys and other animals to die in this way after being trapped, or while kept in cages during transit from one place to another. They don't die due to injury. disease or lack of air and water - their death is brought on by the stress and panic of the experience.
A familiar example of this is when mice die after being caught in humane mouse-traps. The traps don't harm the mice, they only capture them, but the mice often die simply as a consequence of the panic brought on by being trapped. Obviously this must be a harrowing experience for the poor mouse, but the alternative of dying slowly after being trapped for days or even weeks would maybe be much worse.
I wonder if nature/God has built this capture shock system into animals in order to alleviate suffering? Off the top of my head I can't think of any obvious evolutionary reason for it.
In fact, I first read about capture shock in a book which was stating how odd it was that humans don't experience it to anywhere near the same extent as animals do. Do we not need it as much because we have the option of suicide? Can we consciously choose to end our lives, whereas animals need to unconsciously expire?
Maybe death means the happiness of existence outweighs the suffering that comes with it?