Double Effect

Technological advances have prolonged human life and changed not only what it means to practice medicine, but what it means to be alive. In some cases, patients turn to their physicians to assist them in dying. The purpose of this essay is not to promote physician aid in dying or even provide a stance on the subject. Rather, the purpose is to question the moral distinction between physician aid in dying and the doctrine of double effect. Through defining these two terms and analyzing medical cases where killing a patient is morally permissible, I argue that there is no moral distinction between physician aid in dying and the doctrine of double effect.
Originating from “Thomas Aquinas’…discussion of the permissibility of self-defense in the
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Under U.S. law, adult patients with capacity have the right to accept and to refuse treatment. Though a patient accepts treatment, that patient at any time may request to withdraw treatment, even if the consequence of withdrawal is death. Take patient A for example. Patient A has condition X and needs a G-tube to stay alive. A is not conscious and therefore cannot give informed consent. A does have a health care agent and the agent gives permission to the clinician. So, A is given a G-tube. After two months of not getting better, the agent asks the clinician to withdraw the G-tube, knowing that withdrawal will lead to A’s death. After some discussion, the clinician withdraws the G-tube and A dies. Here the doctrine of double effect need not be invoked. This is the same for withholding treatment, if A needed a G-tube and A’s health care agent refused placement, the clinician would withhold treatment and A would die. Again, both are done in clinical practice and are seen as ethical and legal without invoking the doctrine of double effect. So, what distinguishes these three cases from physician aid in …show more content…
However, for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the intent of the clinician is to relieve the patient’s pain in cases invoking the doctrine of double effect. How does the intent and details of the case using the doctrine of double effect differ from the intent and details of the case using physician aid in dying? Take a look at the chart below.

Theory Invoked doctrine of double effect physician aid in dying

Patient A Patient B
Agent Providing clinician clinician

Agent Administering clinician patient

Intent of Clinician relieve pt.’s pain relieve pt.’s pain

Means to Relieve titrated pain killer lethal dose of medication all at once
Pt.’s Pain

End Effect patient A dies patient B

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