The Field of Application of the Principle of the Double Effect and the Problem of Palliative Sedation

  • Alejandro MirandaEmail author
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 116)


A question arises in relation to the problem of palliative sedation as to whether the administration of drugs that have the effect of deprivation of consciousness in the patient, is or is not an action that could (or should) be justified by the application of the so called “principle of the double effect” (PDE). To answer this question it is necessary to establish exactly the field of application of this principle, that is to say, what are the bad effects whose production must be justified under the PDE. Is it necessary to justify, by virtue of the PDE, every human action which has an effect that in any sense could be called “bad”? If the answer is No, then what bad effects are to be included in the field of its application? In this chapter, I seek to demonstrate that the field of application of the PDE is more limited than what is sometimes thought, to conclude finally that the deprivation of consciousness, in itself, does not have to be justified by virtue of the PDE. With this objective, I will proceed as follows: firstly, I will briefly expose the meaning of the PDE and the elements that constitute it; secondly, I will analyse the link between the PDE and the doctrine of intrinsically evil acts; thirdly, I will show some improper uses of the PDE and I will explain why they are improper; fourthly, I will answer certain possible objections to the thesis that I am defending; fifthly, I will refer to the relationship between PDE and the principle of totality; and finally, I will present the arguments which, in my view, prove that the deprivation of consciousness is not an effect which, in itself, should be justified by virtue of the PDE.


Human Dignity Double Effect Proportionate Reason Palliative Sedation Moral Relevance 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawUniversidad de los AndesSantiagoChile

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