How Important is the Doctrine of Double Effect for Moral Theology? Contextualizing the Controversy

Christian Bioethics 3 (2):89-114 (1997)
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One's conception of the conditions and applicability of the principle of double effect derive from one's broader convictions about moral methodology. Developed in a Catholic context which presumed the existence of moral absolutes, the principle of double effect was originally a conceptual tool to aid priests in being skilled confessors. In recent decades, as the practice of moral theology has become less connected with its earlier ecclesial and sacramental context, the principle of double effect has fallen into an epistemological crisis. Contemporary moral theological discussion of the principle of double effect usually operates in one of the following four contexts: interpretation of Aquinas; in relation to manualist casuistry; as understood within proportionalist methodology; as defended within the new natural law methodology. The essay argues that juridically-oriented methodologies do not adequately sustain the principle of double effect. To be sustained, it must be viewed as a theological achievement based upon the meaning of our redemption in Christ and the concomitant possibilities regarding our actions in pursuit of our true good and true end



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John Berkman
Regis College

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