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.
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.)