Passive vs. Active Euthanasia
Natural Law Theory states that an action is only considered “right” if it does not intentionally or directly violate any of the four basic intrinsic goods that thirteenth-century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas described. According to Aquinas, the four basic intrinsic goods are: human life, human procreation, human knowledge and human sociability. So for example, according to natural law theory, using contraceptives such as condoms or birth control pills would not be morally permissible because it directly and intentionally violates the second intrinsic good: human procreation. Not all situations, however, are as straightforward as right or wrong. In some situations, it is impossible to take an action without violating one of the four basic intrinsic goods. This is where the doctrine of double effect comes into play. The doctrine of double effect declares that an action which violates one of the basic goods is acceptable if it also brings about a good effect and meets four specific conditions. The first condition is intrinsic permissibility, meaning apart from its effects, is the action morally permissible? If it is, we move on to the next condition which is necessity. If there is no possible way to avoid the bad effects that will come to pass, then this condition is met as well. The third condition is nonintentionality. To meet this condition, the bad effect must be unintentional. This brings us to the final condition which is proportionality. This condition maintains that the bad effect must be proportional to the good effect. An example of a situation in which the doctrine of double effect would be consulted is if a pregnant woman needed to have a hysterectomy in order to live. A hysterectomy would kill the fetus, but save the woman’s life. According to the doctrine of double effect, a hysterectomy would be morally permissible because it satisfies all of the four conditions. Apart from its effects, the action is permissible...
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