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Old 17th November 2007, 12:22 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
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Default TS 12a: the principle of double effect

Some kinds of acts are intrinsically evil, such as lying, stealing, adultery, murder. These acts cannot be justified regardless of circumstance, intention, the end result of the act, or the degree of severity.

However, other acts are not intrinsically evil and may be immoral given one situation, and moral given another situation. Now there are a number of factors that make an act either moral or immoral. We'll discuss this at length later.

For this thread, we'll consider situations where the principle of double effect applies:
1. the act is either moral or neutral in morality; if the act is intrinsically evil, then the principle of double effect does not apply.
2. the act is done with good intention; any act done with ill intent is immoral due to the intention, even if the act itself is good (such as donating to charity)
3. the act has two effects: one good and one bad

For the act to be moral, the good effect must outweigh the bad effect.

An example:

A woman is pregnant and has cancer of the uterus. The prenatal is not far enough along in development for an earlier delivery, nor close enough to viability for the woman to wait for viability before being treated for cancer. If she waits, both lives will be lost to cancer. It is moral, in this situation, for the physician to remove the cancerous uterous, indirectly killing the prenatal.

1. the act of removing a cancerous uterous is moral; the killing of the prenatal is indirect. The direct killing of a prenatal cannot be done, even to save the life of the mother, because direct and voluntary abortion is intrinsically evil.
2. the act must be done with the intention of saving the life of the mother; the death of the prenatal must not be intended, but merely accepted as an undesireable consequence of an otherwise good act.
3. the good of saving the mother's life outweighs the bad of allowing the death of the prenatal, because the prenatal's life cannot be saved.


Can anyone give other examples of where the principle of double effect would or would not apply?
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Old 17th November 2007, 04:38 PM
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After a natural disaster, a man is left with his family but all of their property, every last bit, was destroyed. He goes to the corner shop and breaks into the boarded up door, and comes out with some food and perhaps a pair of shoes for his son, who has none. He does not pay for the items as the sotre was closed and he had no money. He only took the minimum to take care of his family. There were no other means to get the desparately needed food.

The act of feeding his family was moral. The indirect act of taking it from that store was indirect, as it was the only place possible, he had no choice.

The intent was to feed his starving family, it was not to rob anyone of something that was rightfully theirs.

The good of feeding the wife and kids that were starving outweigh the small amount of damage he did to that store.


OK - Do I pass or do I stay after and clean erasers?
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Old 17th November 2007, 05:57 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bomber View Post
After a natural disaster, a man is left with his family but all of their property, every last bit, was destroyed. He goes to the corner shop and breaks into the boarded up door, and comes out with some food and perhaps a pair of shoes for his son, who has none. He does not pay for the items as the sotre was closed and he had no money. He only took the minimum to take care of his family. There were no other means to get the desparately needed food.

The act of feeding his family was moral. The indirect act of taking it from that store was indirect, as it was the only place possible, he had no choice.

The intent was to feed his starving family, it was not to rob anyone of something that was rightfully theirs.

The good of feeding the wife and kids that were starving outweigh the small amount of damage he did to that store.


OK - Do I pass or do I stay after and clean erasers?

The act described is moral, but not quite for the reasons you stated.

It is not stealing, but expropriation, because all the goods of this world belong to God and are given to us for the common good.
His intention was good, the act of expropriation is morally neutral, and the good did outweigh the bad.
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Old 19th November 2007, 03:05 PM
js1975 js1975 is offline
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Ron,

To comment on your example, while it is moral to remove the cancerous uterous, would it not be at least equally moral to sacrifice your life to create another?

I guess the way I interpreted the double effect is that sometimes the word moral can refer to an acceptable choice, whereas there may be a better choice in a situation. Would this be the right way to look at double effect?


A situation that would not apply according to my understanding of the rule:

Woman is raped and proceeds to get an abortion 3 months later. The method of creating life was intrinsically evil, however the killing of the child is not acceptable because it is equally intrinsically evil.

-jay
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Old 19th November 2007, 04:48 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by js1975 View Post
To comment on your example, while it is moral to remove the cancerous uterous, would it not be at least equally moral to sacrifice your life to create another?
In the case that I gave, the life of the prenatal could not be saved because the prenatal was not viable outside the womb and because before the prenatal could develop to viability, the cancer would kill both mother and prenatal. So the mother could not sacrifice her life to save the prenatal in that situation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by js1975 View Post
I guess the way I interpreted the double effect is that sometimes the word moral can refer to an acceptable choice, whereas there may be a better choice in a situation. Would this be the right way to look at double effect?
The principle of double effect looks only at one particular act and its effects. If there is a better choice, then make the better choice. (Not sure if i understood your question.)

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Originally Posted by js1975 View Post
A situation that would not apply according to my understanding of the rule:

Woman is raped and proceeds to get an abortion 3 months later. The method of creating life was intrinsically evil, however the killing of the child is not acceptable because it is equally intrinsically evil.
-jay

You conclusion that the abortion was immoral is correct. But you did not apply the principle correctly. Rape is intrinsically evil, but once new life is created, that is irrelevant. It is not a question of balancing or comparing the evil of rape to the evil of abortion. That said, abortion is intrinsically evil, as you said, so the principle of double effect does not apply when the act is evil.
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Old 19th November 2007, 08:05 PM
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St. Thomas Moore made an interesting question in the topic regarding Euthanasia:

http://catholicplanet.net/forum/showthread.php?t=1728

Quote:
Originally Posted by St. Thomas More View Post
What about the medical principle of the double effect? This basically allows modern medicine to administer medication which relieves pain to terminally ill people, even if the medication will hasten the person's death. For instance, if X will cause the person to feel less pain, but X also affects another part of the body and causes an earlier death (of a person who will die anyway from a terminal illness), is this permissible? It's called the double effect because it has two effects - alleviates pain and hastens death.

So now that the topic of double effect has been opened I can reply to that question that, in this case, I don't see any double effect at all because the act of giving a sick in pain person a medicine knowing that can hasten his death is still murder, only with the excuse of giving the patient relief.

Consequently, if a doctor knows that a particular medicine can cause relief to a patient but at the same time, can hasten the patient's death, is it immoral to give it to him.
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Old 19th November 2007, 08:09 PM
Climacus Areopagite Climacus Areopagite is offline
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ok I'll try, sorry I dont know all the technical terms for mountain climbing equipment.

The setting would be in a war. Three men are climbing a mountain to engage an enemy target. There climbing gear is connected to all three of them. The bottom of the three climbers slips and loosens the the grip of the safety rope spiked into the side of the mountain.

The bottom climber percieves that the spike cannot hold the weight of all three climbers and so he decides to cut himself off the rope, resulting in death from fall in order to save the top two climbers.

1. I dont know is this a suicide? Or a morally neutral act or a moral act? If a suicide them it would null the double effect.
2. The taking of one's own life is intended to save the life of the two others.
3. The bad effect is the taking of his life, the good effect is the saving of the two others.
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Old 19th November 2007, 08:39 PM
St. Thomas More St. Thomas More is offline
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Default Double Effect w/Medication

I think the double effect would be permissible where the patient has a terminally ill disease, but pain medication hastens death. I would reason, according to the principles, as follows

1. the act is either moral or neutral in morality; if the act is intrinsically evil, then the principle of double effect does not apply.
2. the act is done with good intention; any act done with ill intent is immoral due to the intention, even if the act itself is good (such as donating to charity)
3. the act has two effects: one good and one bad

Therefore, 1. the act of giving medication to relieve pain is moral. 2. the act is done with good intention - to relieve pain. 3. the act has two effects - one good (pain relief) and one bad (hastening death). The killing is indirect, as in Ron's example.

I suppose the unanswered question here is whether the good effect (relieving pain in a terminally ill person) outweighs the bad effect (accelerating the death of a terminally ill person. The fact that the person would soon die, anyway, is important b/c you would not do this w/a person who would not otherwise die b/c then it would be murder.

Any thoughts, Ron?
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Old 19th November 2007, 09:22 PM
Brother Brother is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Climacus Areopagite View Post


The bottom climber percieves that the spike cannot hold the weight of all three climbers and so he decides to cut himself off the rope, resulting in death from fall in order to save the top two climbers.

1. I dont know is this a suicide? Or a morally neutral act or a moral act? If a suicide them it would null the double effect.
2. The taking of one's own life is intended to save the life of the two others.
3. The bad effect is the taking of his life, the good effect is the saving of the two others.

If the man's intention it to save his friends lives, then, there is no suicide here but love.

[John 15]
{15:13} No one has a greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.
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Old 19th November 2007, 09:54 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brother View Post
So now that the topic of double effect has been opened I can reply to that question that, in this case, I don't see any double effect at all because the act of giving a sick in pain person a medicine knowing that can hasten his death is still murder, only with the excuse of giving the patient relief.

Consequently, if a doctor knows that a particular medicine can cause relief to a patient but at the same time, can hasten the patient's death, is it immoral to give it to him.

St. Thomas More was correct. The act is giving a medicine for pain relief, so the act itself is not murder and is moral (falling under the positive commandment of love thy neighbor). The two effects are the hastening of death and the relief of pain. The good of relieving pain has to outweight the hastening of death. This of course applies only when the patient is terminally ill.

There are of course other considerations in the practical case. A doctor has no way of knowing the exact level of pain medication that will begin to hasten death, nor by how much. The particular response of each patient may be biochemically different.
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