What makes death bad for someone who dies? This is on my mind for lots of different reasons--so here goes, some thinking aloud.
The question is puzzling if you even just think about the death of one individual, of one age and species, but let's be masochists and thinking about lots of deaths.
Death of a zygote after 2 days development
Death of a newborn baby
Death of a healthy young adult
Death of a very, very old unhealthy adult
Death of a healthy young cat
My gut feeling is that there's a certain Basic Badness to death (caps do so much to dignify ideas!). The Basic Badness consists of the fact that a certain conscious vantage point on the world existed for some time and then came to an end. It seems to me this is a yes/no matter. Either the basic badness is present or it's absent. And it's present whenever there exists a conscious vantage point. It's present in four of the cases, but not the first. A zygote has no conscious vantage point, so the Basic Badness of death is not present. It might be sad and bad or even tragic in some way for a zygote to die--think about the miscarriage of a much wanted pregnancy. But there is not the awfulness of termination of consciousness.
It would be foolish to say that all deaths are equally bad, just because they involve termination of consciousness. They have a certain type of badness to an equal degree, but there are other types of badness besides Basic Badness. There are two further types of badness (at least!) that make different deaths bad to different degrees. Death doesn't just bring an end to consciousness; it also takes away future life, and that future life can vary in quantity and quality. So in addition to the Basic Badness of death, there is also some degree of Deprivation. A very old unhealthy adult is deprived of less, by death, than a healthy young adult.
More "compare and contrast": I would say the deprivation involved when a cat dies is less than when a newborn baby or health human adult dies--both in light of quantity and quality. There are different "goods" possible in different lives, and not as much good in the average hour of a cat's life. (NB: no less an animal advocate than Peter Singer says exactly the same thing.)
Next: the Basic Badness of death is compounded also by the degree to which death Interrupts. It's one thing to take away future years that would have been good. It's another to interrupt a project that's already under way. Both are bad, but they're bad in different ways. In one case, precious days are lost, in the other, someone dies with "unfinished business."
Death interrupts very little for a baby, a great deal for a healthy adult, and once again, quite a bit less for a very old unhealthy adult. Does death interrupt for a cat, or is a cat's life lived day after day after day, with no possibility of "unfinished business"? There isn't much chance of "unfinished business" for most house cats, but many animals can die with unfinished business. Think of a salmon killed in the middle of its journey upstream, or a beaver killed while building a dam. But yes, on average, there's bound to be less interruption than when a healthy human adult dies.
Now let's do the math ... but how should we do it? A zygote's death is
not bad as far as Basic Badness goes, but it's maximally depriving. Should we
(1) simply add the numbers together? Is death, for a zygote, pretty damned bad, because of the deprivation? Or should we
say (2) that only deaths that are Basically Bad can be even more bad,
because of additional bad-making factors?
I say (2). I cannot
make myself think the death of a zygote is bad in anything at all like
the death of the other four individuals is bad. The badness of deprivation doesn't "kick in" because there's no basic badness to the death of a zygote.
The Basic Badness of death can be worsened by deprivation and interruption, but where there is no Basic Badness, there's nothing to worsen. The way that death brings consciousness to an end is a privileged part of the picture, with everything else playing a secondary, "compounding" role. Why is termination of consciousness the primary thing? Perhaps--bottom line--death is not really death, unless it terminates a consciousness. So deprivation doesn't make a zygote's death extra bad, because it's not really a death, in the funeral sense, to begin with, however much (nevertheless) it can be a grievous thing to lose a pregnancy.
At least--that's how things appear at the moment! Back to reading the death literature (I'm currently reading Death, by Shelly Kagan).