End‐of‐Life Decisions and the Reinvented Rule of Double Effect: A Critical Analysis

Bioethics 28 (7):368-377 (2014)

Abstract

The Rule of Double Effect (RDE) holds that it may be permissible to harm an individual while acting for the sake of a proportionate good, given that the harm is not an intended means to the good but merely a foreseen side-effect. Although frequently used in medical ethical reasoning, the rule has been repeatedly questioned in the past few decades. However, Daniel Sulmasy, a proponent who has done a lot of work lately defending the RDE, has recently presented a reformulated and more detailed version of the rule. Thanks to its greater precision, this reinvented RDE avoids several problems thought to plague the traditional RDE. Although an improvement compared with the traditional version, we argue that Sulmasy's reinvented RDE will not stand closer scrutiny. Not only has the range of proper applicability narrowed significantly, but, more importantly, Sulmasy fails to establish that there is a morally relevant distinction between intended and foreseen effects. In particular, he fails to establish that there is any distinction that can account for the alleged moral difference between sedation therapy and euthanasia

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