Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Euthansia And The Doctrine Of Double Effect
I've been going to a series of seminars for graduate lawyers taking the jurisprudence paper this term called 'topics in legal and political philosophy' run by John Finnis and Joseph Raz. Finnis and Raz are both fairly impressive, although, predictably given my political preferences, I found Raz more impressive. This week the topic was euthansia, about which Raz spoke well, defending a right to choose how to die, on the basis of a general view of autonomy as a significant, and perhaps supreme, value. What I was wondering about was a defence of the doctrine of double effect which Finnis gave, where he imagined two mountaineers tied together on a mountain, and where one cuts the rope connecting him and the other as the other has fallen, and his weight is dragging him to his almost certain death. Finnis, rightly I think, wants to say that the fact here that the mountaineer who cuts the rope, sending his companion to his almost certain death, does not intend his companion's death - if he could save his companion, he would - means that he is not morally culpable for the death, excluding negligence on his part. However, Finnis also wants to be able to say that killing someone who is terminally ill, in great pain and wants to die is wrong. If though, we think that the aim of that killing would be the end of the pain, surely the doctrine of double effect would defend us: if we could end the pain other than by killing, we would. The death is, as it were, accidental to the intention of ending suffering.