Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 6 (3):337-347 (2009)

In contemplating any life and death moral dilemma, one is often struck by the possible importance of two distinctions; the distinction between killing and “letting die”, and the distinction between an intentional killing and an action aimed at some other outcome that causes death as a foreseen but unintended “side-effect”. Many feel intuitively that these distinctions are morally significant, but attempts to explain why this might be so have been unconvincing. In this paper, I explore the problem from an explicitly consequentialist point of view. I first review and endorse the arguments that the distinctions cannot be drawn with perfect clarity, and that they do not have the kind of fundamental significance required to defend an absolute prohibition on killing. I go on to argue that the distinctions are nonetheless important. A complete consequentialist account of morality must include a consideration of our need and ability to construct and follow rules; our instincts about these rules; and the consequences that might follow if the agent breaks a good general rule, particularly if this involves acting contrary to moral instinct. With this perspective, I suggest that the distinctions between killing and letting die and between intending and foreseeing do have moral relevance, especially for those involved in the care of the sick and dying
Keywords Intention  Double effect principle  Euthanasia  Withholding treatment  Terminal care
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11673-009-9173-2
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 54,410
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame.Thomas Scanlon - 2008 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

View all 24 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Mental Illness, Natural Death, and Non-Voluntary Passive Euthanasia.Jukka Varelius - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (3):635-648.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Ambiguities in 'Killing' and 'Letting Die'.Gary M. Atkinson - 1983 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 8 (2):159-168.
Ronald Dworkin on Abortion and Assisted Suicide.F. M. Kamm - 2001 - The Journal of Ethics 5 (3):221-240.
Killing and Letting Die.James Rachels - 2001 - In Lawrence C. Becker Mary Becker & Charlotte Becker (eds.), Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2nd Edition. Routledge.
Life-Prolonging Killings and Their Relevance to Ethics.Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen - 1999 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (2):135-147.
A Moral Distinction Between Killing and Letting Die.Carla E. Kary - 1980 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 5 (4):326-332.


Added to PP index

Total views
152 ( #60,741 of 2,368,001 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #556,092 of 2,368,001 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes