Last updated on: 10/25/2010 10:39:41 AM PST
What Is the Doctrine of Double Effect?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in its July 28, 2004 entry titled "Doctrine of Double Effect," explained:
"The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or 'double effect') of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. This reasoning is summarized with the claim that sometimes it is permissible to bring about as a merely foreseen side effect a harmful event that it would be impermissible to bring about intentionally...
A doctor who intends to hasten the death of a terminally ill patient by injecting a large dose of morphine would act impermissibly because he intends to bring about the patient's death. However, a doctor who intended to relieve the patient's pain with that same dose and merely foresaw the hastening of the patient's death would act permissibly."
July 28, 2004 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wrote in the Religion & Ethics section of its website, in an entry titled "The Doctrine of Double Effect" (accessed Nov. 15, 2006):
"This doctrine [of double effect] says that if doing something morally good has a morally bad side-effect it's ethically OK to do it providing the bad side-effect wasn't intended. This is true even if you foresaw that the bad effect would probably happen.
The principle is used to justify the case where a doctor gives drugs to a patient to relieve distressing symptoms even though he knows doing this may shorten the patient's life.
This is because the doctor is not aiming directly at killing the patient - the bad result of the patient's death is a side-effect of the good result of reducing the patient's pain.
Many doctors use this doctrine to justify the use of high doses of drugs such as morphine for the purpose of relieving suffering in terminally-ill patients even though they know the drugs are likely to cause the patient to die sooner.
Factors involved in the doctrine of double effect:
Nov. 15, 2006 - BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)