The double life of double effect

The U.S. Supreme Court's majorityopinion in Vacco v. Quill assumes thatthe principle of double effect explains thepermissibility of hastening death in thecontext of ordinary palliative care and inextraordinary cases in which painkilling drugshave failed to relieve especially intractablesuffering and terminal sedation has beenadopted as a last resort. The traditionaldoctrine of double effect, understood asproviding a prohibition on instrumental harmingas opposed to incidental harming or harming asa side effect, must be distinguished from otherways in which the claim that a result is notintended might be offered as part of ajustification for it. Although double effectmight appropriately be invoked as a constrainton ordinary palliative care, it is not clearthat it can be coherently extended to justifysuch practices as terminal sedation. A betterapproach would reconsider double effect'straditional prohibition on hastening death as ameans to relieve suffering in the context ofacute palliative care.
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