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Originating in Roman Catholic scholastic moral philosophy, the Principle of Double Effect (hereafter referred to as the PDE or Double Effect) is still widely discussed in the bioethics literature on euthanasia, palliative care, physician assisted suicide, suicide and abortion (Barry; Quill, Lo et al.; Manfredi, Morrison et al.; Stempsey; Kamm, 1999; Mcintosh; Shaw). It has also been applied to a range of other issues, including organ donation and transplantation (DuBois). Due in large part to these bioethics discussions, the PDE has been the subject of a resurgence of interest in moral and political philosophy generally. Double Effect has been debated in the philosophy of law as germane to discussions of, among other things, murder, self-defense, capital punishment, and suicide (Frey; Hart; Finnis, 1991, 1995; Aulisio, 1996). In social and political philosophy, it has been put forth as an important principle for rights theory (Quinn, 1989; Bole), and as a partial justification for affirmative action (Cooney). A traditional military ethics application of Double Effect, to distinguish between strategic and terror bombing, remains a subject of debate today as well (Bratman; Kamm, 2000). In addition, the PDE's central distinction, intention/foresight, has been the subject of rigorous analysis in the philosophy of action (Robins; Bratman; Aulisio, 1995; Brand; Harman).

Double Effect is typically applied to conflict situations in which any action (or course of actions) will result in numerous effects, good and bad. Traditionally a four-part principle, contemporary versions of the PDE are usually formulated as two-part principles, along the following lines: An action with multiple effects, good and bad, is permissible if and only if (1) one is not committed to intending evil (bad effects) either as end or means, and (2) there is proportionate reason for bringing about the evil (bad effects). The first condition, a non-consequentialist intention condition, is lexically prior to the second. Most proponents of the PDE consider the second condition, the proportionate reason condition, to be consequentialist in nature while allowing for other considerations as well.

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