The objective of this paper is to prove that the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE), proposed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, is a valid moral principle. It has been concluded that the DDE is a valid moral principle as it allows one to justify whether an action will cause two diverse effects and whether the effects are permissible. It is crucial to establish the validity of the DDE because it has been applied to defend a significant number of contemporary controversial issues (McIntyre). In order to determine whether the DDE is a valid moral principle, the definition of the doctrine itself as well as conditions involved will be demonstrated.
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In addition, each condition will be applied to differentiate two examples that result in the same outcomes. While examples are given to demonstrate the moral validity of the DDE, a common misinterpretation to the DDE will also be clarified. It is difficult to identify the intentions of agents who apply the DDE when defending their actions as only the agent is aware of his/her intentions. By default, the DDE assumes that the agent intends to create the greatest number of goods. Therefore, agents cannot apply the DDE to defend their actions if they intend to create the bad end (McIntyre).
Based on the above fact, the uncertainty of each agent’s intention will not be considered as a factor that affects the validity of the DDE. The DEE states that it is morally permissible for one to carry out an action or make a decision that will result in the occurrence of good effects, even if he/she is able to foresee negative impacts resulting from carrying out the action (McIntyre). In order to justify the permissibility of undertaking a particular action or making a certain descion, conditions in relation to the DDE had been declared and were used to define whether it is permissible to perform the action.
Actions or choices that fail to meet any one of the conditions are considered impermissible. The conditions stated are as follow: 1st Condition: The action itself to the object must be good or indifferent (McIntyre). 2nd Condition: The action was carried out with the intention to create a good result or to achieve a good effect (McIntyre). 3rd Condition: The negative impact must not be used as a means to achieve the better result (McIntyre). 4th Condition: The resulting good effect must be proportionally greater than the resulting the bad effect (McIntyre).
The following conditions have been applied to justify the permissibility of making certain choices: Medicine shortage: In the case where five patients are dying from a disease and the doctor is only equipped with a fixed amount of medication able to cure this disease, the doctor faces the challenge of whether to divide the medication into four equal proportions and save the lives of four patients, or to give the medicine to one patient and allow the remaining four to die from the disease. The doctor chooses to divide the medication into four equal proportions.
As a result of the doctor’s choice, four patients survive and one dies (Lippert-Rasmussen, 2010). Organ shortage: In the case where five patients are each dying from a different type of disease and the doctor is only equipped with medication which would allow him to cure one of the diseases, the doctor faces the challenge of wether to cure one patient or to withhold the medication for that patient and allow him to die in order to use his/her organs to cure the other four patients suffering from diseases.
The doctor chooses to withhold medication from that patient in order to save the lives of four patients (Lippert-Rasmussen, 2010). By attempting to justify the above scenarios by applying the conditions of DDE, it has been derived that the choice that the doctor made in the Medicine Shortage scenario is permissible. The choice that the doctor made in the Organ Shortage scenario is not permissible. In the Medicine Shortage scenario, the doctor chose to carry out an action which would save four people rather than one.
As four patients survived, the positive impact of the choice outweighed the negative impact so the choice is considered permissible. The doctor was aware that his choice would result in the death of one patient. However, the death of one patient compared to five was able to justify that action. Therefore, the doctors choice of dividing medication into four equal proportions to save the lives of four out of five patients is able to satisfy all the conditions of DDE and therefore it is permissible for the doctor to make such a decision.
The doctor’s choice in the Organ Shortage scenario is impermissible. From a quantitative point of view, it may seem the doctor’s choice is permissible as it resulted in the death of one patient as opposed to four. However, the death of the patient is not a side-effect of curing the four other patients. Moreover, the death of the fifth patient has been used as a means to achieve the good end. The doctor’s choice fails to meet the conditions of DDE as the doctor withheld medication from a patient whose life depended on the medication.
Therefore, it has been concluded that the doctor’s choice is impermissible. The above scenarios may seem identical as the doctor made the decision that was able to save the greatest number of people. However, it has been identified that the circumstances were different and As the two similar actions are distinguished, the creditability of the DDE in relation to justifying controversial issues has been proved. Since the DDE has established a moral standard for actions which would cause two diverse ends, it, therefore, is a valid moral principle.
While examples have been given, misinterpretations are also set to be clarified in order to enhance the legitimacy of the DDE. One of the most popular misinterpretation claims that the DDE allows agents to bring about any bad effects “provided that they are merely foreseen side effects of promoting a good end” (McIntyre). However, according to the conditions of the DDE, the good effect must proportionally outweigh the bad effect. It is a misinterpretation because it does not take that “applications of double effect always presuppose that some kind of proportionality condition has been satisfied”(McIntyre) into account.
Due to the fact that the doctrine of double effect has been utilised to defend a lot of contemporary controversial issues, the importance of erecting the legitimacy of the doctrine is vast. Through apply the doctrine to differentiate two similar examples, it has not only shown that the DDE provides a moral standard to justify actions but also proved that the DDE is a valid moral principle. After one of the most popular misinterpretations has been clarify, the legitimacy of the DDE has been further enhanced.