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Two challenges to the double effect doctrine: euthanasia and abortion
  1. A B Shaw
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A B Shaw, 2 The Stables, Weeton Lane, Harewood, Leeds LS17 9LP, UK.{at}


The validity of the double effect doctrine is examined in euthanasia and abortion. In these two situations killing is a method of treatment. It is argued that the doctrine cannot apply to the care of the dying. Firstly, doctors are obliged to harm patients in order to do good to them. Secondly, patients should make their own value judgments about being mutilated or killed. Thirdly, there is little intuitive moral difference between direct and indirect killing. Nor can the doctrine apply to abortion. Doctors kill fetuses as a means of treating the mother. They also kill them as an inevitable side effect of other treatment. Drawing a moral distinction between the direct and the indirect killing gives counterintuitive results. It is suggested that pragmatic rules, not ethics, govern practices around euthanasia and cause it to be more restricted than abortion.

  • Double effect doctrine
  • euthanasia
  • abortion

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