Voluntary Euthanasia: A Quantum Theory of Moral Action (part 4)

This is part 4 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 ..., an atheistic rationale for secular humanism. 

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Scenarios in which the quantum theory of moral action may be applied

Readers may initially question the quantifiability of Pleasure and Pain, which are entirely subjective experiences, and therefore doubt the usefulness of the PPQ concept itself.  However, consideration of some scenarios will demonstrate that there exists a quantifiable dimension of these experiences.  Indeed, it is intuitively obvious that there can exist more, or less, Pain and Pleasure, despite the resistance of these quantities to empirical measurement.

Scenario 1:  Sarah is suffering from late-stage bone cancer.  Her doctors concur that no curative treatments exist, and that she will die within six months accompanied by unrelieved severe pain.  Most observers would agree that the quanta of Sarah’s Pain will soon exceed the quanta of her Pleasure — her PPQ is, or soon will be, negative.  Of course, only her own personal assessment of her PPQ is valid and should be determinative of a decision to end her life.  (see discussion below of “who decides.”)

Variant death-related scenarios are listed below, but need not be elaborated as the one above.  The reader can apply PPQ analysis to each, assessing the relative quanta to estimate a PPQ in each instance.  Again, many readers may prefer to avoid the effort of assigning numerical values to these variables, instead using their intuitive recognition of “larger” and “smaller” quantities or magnitudes of each one.

Scenario 2:  Whether to accept treatment for terminal cancer.  Consider the Pain of treatment compared with the Pleasure of one’s remaining time before natural death.

Scenario 3:  Whether to choose death over living with a severely disabling illness or injury, such as blindness, quadriplegia, or stroke-induced paralysis.

Scenario 4: Upon onset of Alzheimer’s disease, whether to choose death over allowing the disease to progress.  Consider the impact of disease progression on the PPQ of one’s spouse or other loved ones who would be providing care, perhaps for a period of years.  Also consider the risk that one may become mentally incompetent to decide and/or physically incompetent to implement the decision to end one’s life.

Scenario 5: Clinical depression.  Consider the characteristic illusion typical of depression that one can never be happy again, despite the existence of effective medical treatments.

Scenario 6:  Prison populations.  Consider whether assisted death should be made available to incarcerated individuals, particularly those anticipating lengthy terms of imprisonment.

Non-death scenarios

More scenarios are presented below to further clarify the potential applications of this quantum theory:

Scenario 7:  Whether to end an unhappy marriage.  If children are present, consider their PPQ’s, estimating the complex and countervailing quanta resulting from either choice as well as the weights assigned to the children’s PPQs compared with those of the parents.

Scenario 8:  Sport-killing (hunting).  Consider the quanta of Pain of the animals being hunted compared with the quanta of Pleasure of the hunter.

Scenario 9:  Vegetarianism/veganism.  Consider the quanta of Pain of animals who are kept in miserable conditions and are often killed by violent means, as well as the minuscule impact of one person’s choice to not eat animal products on the food-animal industry at large.

Scenario 10:  Efforts to prevent extinction of a species of sentient creature. Consider that the post-extinction experience of members of that species is nothingness, so their PPQ would be null (no Pleasure, no Pain). Whose PPQ would be affected by the extinction or its prevention?

Scenario 11: A couple’s decision to have a child.  Consider the PPQ’s of each parent as well as that of the child, who will presumably live a full life comprised of unpredictable quanta of Pleasure and Pain.

Scenario 12:  A woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy.  Consider the PPQ of a fertilized egg (null) as well as that of a nearly full-term fetus.  Consider any known fetal abnormal conditions that would negatively affect the future quality of life (PPQ) of the child.  Consider the woman’s financial and social circumstances that would affect her own and her child’s PPQs.

Scenario 13:  Dieting.  Consider the quanta of Pleasure of eating a meal or dessert compared with the quanta of Pain of being overweight attributable to that particular meal or dessert.

Scenario 14:  All life on earth.  Consider that most sentient creatures die by being eaten alive by a predator, surely an agonizing experience of intense Pain.  What is the sum of all quanta of Pleasure experienced by animals in the wild?  What is the collective PPQ of humans, many of whom live in conditions of privation, hunger, displacement, and other forms of Pain? What is the combined PPQ of all sentient life, worldwide?  Might it be concluded, based on PPQ analysis, that the appearance of sentient life on earth was an unfortunate byproduct, if not a tragic accident, of evolution?

(Stay tuned for Part 5 of this series.)

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Comment by DAN DANA on February 19, 2015 at 6:23am

Rich, the "test" (self-assessment) is entirely subjective and idiosyncratic.  If the Beverly Hills mom determines, hopefully after much reflection and discussion with others whose opinions she values, that her life is not worth living because she doesn't have a suitable party dress, then her quantified PPQ may indeed be below zero, and so ending her life would be the appropriate result of her self-assessment.  It's her choice, no one else's.

Comment by Rich Goss on February 18, 2015 at 5:46pm

Good answer.. As long as the quantum testing is used as a helping or therapeutic resource and not as a final determiner of the euthanasia.  But pain and pleasure are so subjective, how can the numbers be meaningful? Let's say two people enter the doctor's office to be tested.  The first is a wizened 90-year-old coal miner whose literally been through the mill for sixty years.  The latter is a spoiled Beverly Hills Mom whose idea of suffering is to go without a new dress at tonight's cocktail party. 

Are you thinking of one standard test or a multiplex of tests drawn up on an individual basis?  Remember we once discussed our service records?  I'm pretty sure there has to be a few Polish chickens in my pedigree.  I have about the same pain threshold as a spoiled five-year-old Park Avenue kid. 

Comment by DAN DANA on February 18, 2015 at 3:45pm

Rich, thanks for your comment.  I hope you are well soon and are able to attend HUSBAY meetings.

The PPQ is defined in part 2 of this multi-part series, posted previously Re use of quantifiable measures in this "quantum theory," by no means does doing so suggest that others decide about one's death -- indeed, I explicitly declare in the full article that it is the dying person who has sovereignty over his/her life.  Others (government/church/physicians/etc) may not supersede one's personal sovereignty. 

The calculations in the quantum theory are intended solely to aid the individual to think rationally about what is surely a highly emotional situation and to apply as much reason to the decision as possible.

Comment by Rich Goss on February 18, 2015 at 11:49am

Dan, good to see you here on A/N.  I've been ill but hope to make it back to the meetings soon.

About your post, first of all I think you should have not only defined but explained PPQ beforehand.  You pull it out of the sky without stating what the letters stand for. 

As in The Reason Revolution, there's a tendency to quantify phenomena, using science and numbers where they shouldn't belong..  To my mind, suicide is a personal matter concerning the individual, family and doctor only.  Suppose a patient is dying of AIDS, I can imagine a case where white lab-coated doctors and statisticians tabulate a questionnaire and tell the patient, "We're sorry but the pain threshold numbers don't suffice on our beta standard deviation chart, so you'll have to wait another six months and retest."  

I believe this is not an area for science other than to help the individual proceed through death's door—that's the hardest part for most people, I conjecture—as painlessly as possible. 

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