The Doctrine Of Double Effect

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    • The Catholic Church derived from Thomas Aquinas developed this subtle approach, as a result of the principle of casuistry, which is case by case moral decision making, apply the Natural Law theory in difficult dilemnas
    • Under the golden rule, it is always morally wrong to do a bad act with the intention of bringing about good consequences, but under the principle of Double Effect, it is morally permissible, to take an action with the right intention to bring about a good outcome knowing that the action may have bad consequence
    • Provided a person's intention is to bring about good, it is morally permissible to benefit from the action, even if the consequences may be undesirable, as a by-product of that action
      • For example, if a fetus is growing inside a woman's Fallopian tube, in order that the mother's life is saved. In this case the consequential side effect, which is the ending of the pregnancy is not forbidden by Natural Moral Law and Catholic Law
        • In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the life of the fetus would not go to term, and both the fetus and mother would die.
        • Secondly, an operation to remove cancer from the uterus is permitted even though the consequences of the operation would be to end the life of the fetus
          • Modern laser treatment of the Fallopian tube in pregnancy is problematic for supporters of Natural Law, since the operation directly targets the fetus. Therefore as Vardy and Grosch have said, in this case there is no double effect really, since the fallopian tubes are not removed
          • However, the case in Ireland of the woman with high blood pressure is not covered by this doctrine, because an operation for termination is intended to end the life of the fetus
    • The theologian and philosopher Aquinas taught that the taking of innocent human life is permissible under the guise of protection the mothers, as the secondary concern of the action. 
    • . The doctrine of double effect avoids the obvious question about which is of greater value or which has the most right to life because it prioritises action based upon what ‘ought’ to be done and not on the consequence of the action.


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