The double life of double effect

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 25 (1):61-74 (2004)
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The U.S. Supreme Court's majority opinion in Vacco v. Quill assumes that the principle of double effect explains the permissibility of hastening death in the context of ordinary palliative care and in extraordinary cases in which painkilling drugs have failed to relieve especially intractable suffering and terminal sedation has been adopted as a last resort. The traditional doctrine of double effect, understood as providing a prohibition on instrumental harming as opposed to incidental harming or harming asa side effect, must be distinguished from other ways in which the claim that a result is notintended might be offered as part of ajustification for it. Although double effectmight appropriately be invoked as a constrainton ordinary palliative care, it is not clearthat it can be coherently extended to justifysuch practices as terminal sedation. A betterapproach would reconsider double effect'straditional prohibition on hastening death as ameans to relieve suffering in the context ofacute palliative care.


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