One Person's Modus Ponens: Boyle, Absolutist Catholicism, and the Doctrine of Double Effect

Christian Bioethics 3 (2):142-157 (1997)
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The doctrine of double effect (DOE) has its origins in Roman Catholic thought and has been held to have widespread applications in bioethics. Its applications range over issues of maternal-fetal conflict, organ donation and transplant, euthanasia, and resource allocation, among other controversial issues. Recently, Joseph Boyle, the foremost proponent of the DOE over the past few decades, has argued that the DOE is required by the absolutist context of the Catholic tradition, and, further, that anyone who rejects this particular context is not entitled to use the doctrine. In this essay, I will focus exclusively on the intention condition of the DOE and its central distinction, i.e., intention/side effect. I will proceed by considering in turn (1) Boyle's argument that the absolutist moral framework of the Catholic tradition requires the intention/side effect distinction; (2) the ways in which that framework is made vulnerable by this requirement; and (3) just why the DOE should be viable even outside of the Catholic tradition if it turns out that a feature of (l) is correct and the challenges of (2) can be met



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