The principles of ethics are immensely complicated. They call for a sound mind and upright skills of judgment in order for the decision maker to go by the right decision. The principle of double effect particularly is one interesting yet tough principle. It is used in situations involving double effects, one good and another one undesirable. The criteria followed in solving such situations are clear and rather straightforward. This principle is also applied in legal proceedings where the defendant cites necessity as a defense. In such legal cases, just like in solving ethical dilemmas, the perpetrator of the deed must prove that the bad effect was necessary in achieving the good effect. However, in both law and ethics, if the bad effect outweighs the good effect, the whole decision becomes unjustifiable. This paper seeks to illustrate the principle of double effects in the context of two cases:
The young woman in this case discovers that she is suffering from, tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is known to be a very dangerous disease. From the facts of this case, it is apparent that if the woman does not take the drug, she will die. This is according to the doctor. Additionally, the doctor says that there is no other drug that can cure the illness. As such, she has no alternative. However, this drug has the effect of killing the four months old fetus that the young woman has in her womb. At this point, the good effect and the bad effect have become apparent. The deed is the administration of the drug. The good effect is that the young woman will get well. The bad effect is that the drug will abort the fetus. The dilemma is: should the drug be administered?
Such a dilemma is referred to as an ethical dilemma. It involves the applications of the principles of ethics in order to be solved. Looking at the case rationally, there seems to be no solution because we are ending a life to save another life. At this point, critical thinking is of the essence. The two options have to be weighed. If the drug is administered, the fetus will die, but the woman will survive. If the drug is not administered, the woman will die and consequently, the fetus will die. The former option is therefore better since it saves one life while the second option leads to the loss of both lives.
The option of the mother surviving and the fetus dying has the double effect. In this case, the good effect outweighs the bad effect and it is only reasonable and logical that the young woman should take the drug. Taking the drug saves one life. Failure to take the drug loses two lives. Trying to avoid the bad effect of aborting the fetus, results in the passing away of both the fetus and the mother. As such, the decision that is ethically correct is that of administering the drug. According to the law of natural justice a person may never, expressly intend to end the life of an innocent human being. In this case however, the killing of the baby is not directly or expressly intended. It just comes as a side effect of the procedure that aimed at saving the life of the mother. It is unjustifiable to let the two human beings die.
This case is similar to the first case. Just like the above discussed case, this case can also be solved by following the criteria of the principle of double effect. In this case, a woman is about to deliver a baby. The doctor discovers that the fetus is hydrocephalic. This is a condition where the head of the baby is bigger than a normal baby’s head. As such a normal virginal birth is impossible as it will cause the demise of both the baby and the mother. Again in this case, the bad and the good effects are seen. The good effect is that of saving the life of the mother. The action involved for this life to be saved is only one. The option is only that of crashing the cranium of the fetus.
The dilemma in this case surrounds the fact that there is no other option as the caesarean section will result in the death of both the mother and the fetus. Going by the criterion of the double effect principle, the act to be committed in it is good. The act here is that of trying to save the life of the mother. It is a good cause. The bad effect cannot be avoided in making the good deed effective. The bad effect is the crashing and the consequent death of the fetus. The bad effect however, is not the means to achieving the good effect but rather a side effect that cannot possibly be avoided. Perhaps, looking at it critically, the good effect outweighs the bad effect since if we overlook the crashing of the cranium, the two lives will be lost. However, if the cranium is crashed, one life is saved and in the process the other life lost.
In solving this dilemma therefore, the four criteria are observed and a solution is arrived at. Philosophy in ancient Greek societies advocated for the highest good. The principle of the highest good is in line with the double effect principle in the sense that it focuses on the idea that the good outweighs the bad. The principle of double effect is prominent in legal proceedings especially those involving abortion. The defendants in such cases use the defense of necessity. They have to proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the abortion was necessary in the course of trying to achieve some greater good. The defense of necessity is a legally valid defense in criminal proceedings subject to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the above discussed cases meet the criteria of the double effect principle. It is clear to see that for a case to fall under the double effect principle, it must involve four features the features are: an act that looked at independently is good; a good effect resulting from such an act; a bad effect resulting from the same effect; and a condition that the good effect outweighs the bad effect. There should also be an implied condition that the bad effect is not as the means to achieving the good effect but rather a side effect. In solving ethical dilemmas especially those involving abortion, this principle is employed as well as the principle of natural law. Natural law, states that no person shall expressly intend to end the life of an innocent being.