Limits to Life-Sustaining Treatment

5. Take an action that indirectly causes the death of a patient

The key to understanding this choice is to recognize that morphine has (at least) two effects:

  1. it eases pain
  2. it supresses respiration

If a physician gives a dose of morphine for the purpose of relieving pain and it also suppresses respiration to the point that the patient stops breathing, the death was only an indirect effect of the action.

The question under debate is whether one is less morally responsible for a death that occurs as an indirect effect of one's action than for one that is the direct effect (as in #4 just above).

The view that there is a difference is sometimes known as "The Doctrine of Double Effect." We will discuss this doctrine at length in this unit.


  • inject a dose of morphine that is sufficient to relieve this patient's pain fully, although you know (or, at least, strongly suspect) that this dose will prove fatal

Created by Glenn C. Graber
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