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Response to Ronald M Perkin and David B Resnik: The agony of trying to match sanctity of life and patient-centred medical care
  1. H Kuhse
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr H Kuhse, Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia;


Perkin and Resnik advocate the use of muscle relaxants to prevent the “agony of agonal respiration” arguing that this is compatible with the principle of double effect. The proposed regime will kill patients as certainly as smothering them would. This may lead some people to reject the argument as an abuse of the principle of double effect. I take a different view. In the absence of an adequate theory of intention, the principle of double effect cannot distinguish between the intentional and merely foreseen termination of life, and cannot rule out end-of-life decisions that are often regarded as impermissible.

What Perkin and Resnik are in effect saying is that there are times when physicians have good reasons to end a patient’s life—deliberately and intentionally—for the patient’s (and the family’s) sake. Why not say so—instead of going through the agony of trying to match sanctity of life and patient-centred medical care?

  • Palliative care
  • end-of-life care
  • double effect
  • terminal sedation

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