Voluntary Euthanasia: A Quantum Theory of Moral Action (part 1)

 This is part 1 of a multi-part series.

I contemplate writing a book on this subject intended for the educated reader, tentatively titled “My Death, My Choice: A Secular View of Voluntary Euthanasia” in which this quantum theory will play an integral role.  The book assumes that readers hold a secular humanist worldview.  That is, secular in the sense that no deities, afterlives, or other supernatural notions are involved, and humanistic in the sense that the wellbeing of human and non-human sentient creatures is the only valid measure of moral virtue. Readers of this article are requested to read my short, free ebook The Reason Revolution: Atheism, Secular Humanism, and the Collapse ... as an atheistic rationale for secular humanism. 

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This quantum theory of moral action is intended specifically as an aid to individuals contemplating end-of-life decisions, particularly voluntary euthanasia, although it has other potential applications.  That is, it addresses the question whether the remainder of one’s life is worth living considering the balance of probable cumulative quanta of positive (pleasure and related attributes) and negative (pain and related attributes) experience from the present time until the end of one’s natural life.  If that balance is negative, then one may rationally and ethically elect to terminate one’s life prior to its natural end.  If the balance is positive, then one would choose to continue living until such time that the balance may become negative.  That balance may be termed the Pleasure/Pain Quotient (PPQ) where the quantitative total of positive experience (Pleasure) is divided by the quantitative total of negative experience (Pain).  Borrowing from quantum physics, this article proposes that “Pleasure” and “Pain” are comprised of quanta, carrying both “mass” and “charge,” that allow a quasi-mathematical determination of the morality of the choice to end one’s life.  Mathematical definitions of these quantities follow.

Students of philosophy will recognize this quantum theory of moral action as a derivative of the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill with traces of the Categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant and other philosophers dating back to Plato who attempted to define “the Good.”

Physicists are asked for leniency as I analogize certain elements of quantum theory to this psychological, non-physical, aspect of existence.

Do the math, or not

Some readers will enjoy assigning numerical values to the factors comprising these equations in order to calculate a resultant PPQ value and the measured morality of a considered act.  Other readers, less mathematically inclined, may prefer to simply use the narrative descriptions of the equations to organize their thinking about how to make the decision of ending one’s life.  Regardless of how the equations are used, I hope this quantum theory contributes to the reason and rationality exercised in making such decisions.

Secular humanism, a foundational assumption

Two conclusions regarding ancient metaphysical uncertainties that are inherent to secular humanism are relevant to this discussion:

1.  No afterlife exists.  One’s “experience” following death is equivalent to one’s “experience” preceding life, say a year, or a billion years, prior to one’s birth.  That experience is essentially nothingness, containing no awareness whatsoever, such as sadness, regret, grief, or any other emotions that are commonly associated with death.  These emotions may be experienced by the deceased’s survivors, but not by the deceased him/herself.  Post-death experience is null.

2.  No deities exist.  There is no divine being that acts as a judge of the morality of human actions or who revealed moral commandments via a “holy book” or other representation of the deity’s wishes. 

As a consequence of these two conclusions, we secular humanists regard ourselves as solely responsible for our moral actions during this one life, including the act of intentionally ending our own lives.  Our lives are not “owned” by deities, nor by churches, nor by the state.  The morality, or immorality, of voluntary euthanasia is represented by the PPQ of the act’s resultant effects not only on the self, but on loved ones and others who have a relationship with the deceased and whose own PPQ would be affected detrimentally by the loss of that relationship.


(Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.)

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Comment by Michael Penn on December 7, 2014 at 6:55pm

Here is how I see it. We are not "our brothers keeper." This idea comes out of religion. If you do want to take on this role in a true sense in all human compassion then allow people the right of voluntary euthanasia. This may eliminate much suffering.

I've also just became aware of people wearing a bracelet with DNR on it. Do not resuscitate. This is for those who do not want to be brought back to a physical world in which they may not be able to fully function.

It all makes sense.

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