Analyzing Ethical Dilemmas Using St. Thomas Aquinas' Principle of Doubt Effect - Essay Sample

Published: 2023-09-13
Analyzing Ethical Dilemmas Using St. Thomas Aquinas' Principle of Doubt Effect - Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Medicine Ethical dilemma
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 973 words
9 min read


The principle of doubt effect is useful in analyzing cases that involve ethical dilemmas. The philosophy that St. Thomas Aquinas created included four crucial steps that enable an action to be justified or not justified according to Natural law (Drew and Grant 2). These steps evaluate the relevance of the intentions, assess the bad and good effect, and evaluate whether the agent has a good or bad impact and whether the bad effect outweighs the good result. For an action to be justified as per catholic moralist and bioethicists, the act must be morally right and have a good impact that outweighs the harmful effect (Bailey 281). The agents should also not intend to cause an adverse effect, and there should be a proportionate reason to tolerate the detrimental impact.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Case 1

The first case involves a pregnant woman who suffers from tuberculosis. However, the tuberculosis medication will cause an abortion to the unborn child if she decides to take it. On the other hand, if she does not take the drug, she will die. The question is whether the pregnant woman should take the medication as per the natural law.

The four criteria of Thomas Aquinas's double effect theory should be applied to determine whether it would be appropriate for the woman to take the tuberculosis medication. The first criterion that must be met is whether the action is morally appropriate. In this case, taking the medication is ethically right because if the pregnant woman does not take it, she will die. Besides, there is no other medication that could cure her condition and that taking medicine does not directly attack the unborn child. Therefore, the action of taking the medication meets the first criterion of the theory of double effect. Secondly, not taking the medication will cause her to die, which means that the unborn child will probably die. The death of the unborn child, on the other hand, does not create a good effect, but taking the medication does, thus fulfilling the second condition.

Moreover, the mother agreeing to take the medication does not intend to kill the fetus but preserve her life; therefore, meeting the third criterion that demands the agent not intentionally cause an adverse effect. Concerning the proportionate reason criteria, saving the mother's life outweighs the harmful impact of killing the unborn child. Besides, taking the medication does not directly intend to harm the child but cure the mother. There is no contradiction between the means (taking the medication) and the intended end (saving the pregnant woman). Thus, according to the Natural Law, the mother is justified to take the tuberculosis medication.

Case 2

The second case involves the delivery of a hydrocephalic fetus. A decision has to be made to crush the fetus (craniotomy) because attempting a normal or caesarian birth would lead to the death of the mother and the unborn child. The question is whether the craniotomy is justified as per the natural law. A keen assessment has to be made to determine whether the four criteria of the double effect philosophy are met.

In this case, the act of crash the fetus's skull is justified because not doing so will lead to the death of both the mother and fetus. The action is morally acceptable because it is intended to save the woman’s life. The craniotomy also met the second criteria of the double effect theory, which states that the adverse effect cannot cause a good result. In this case, the fetus’ does not cause the good effect, which is to preserve the mother’s life. Instead, reducing the skull's size is the one that causes the good result. Thirdly, the mother or physical does not intend the adverse effect. It is neither the mother nor the physician’s will to kill the fetus. However, due to the circumstances present, the fetus’ skull must be crushed to preserve the mother's life. Thus, the craniotomy process meets the third condition. Lastly, the death of the embryo (the bad effect) does not outweigh the preservation of the mother’s life (the good result). As mentioned earlier, the fourth criterion of the double effect theory requires that the adverse effect does not outweigh the good effect (Kockler). In this case, the good result, which is preserving the mother's life more significant than the harmful effect, constitutes the fetus’ death. In any case, a proportionate reason exists to tolerate the death of the fetus, given that the craniotomy is intended to save the mother’s life rather than to eliminate the unborn child. This implies that the crashing the fetus’ skulls is justified under the natural law.


The two cases above meet the four criteria of the double effect theory. In the first case, taking tuberculosis medication is morally appropriate. Besides, the fetus's death cannot save the mother’s life, but taking the drug does. Moreover, the mother will not have directly intended to kill the unborn child, and there is a proportionate reason to tolerate the death of the fetus. In the second case, a craniotomy is morally acceptable, considering that the mother’s life is at stake. Furthermore, crashing the fetus's skull does preserve the mother’s life, the mother or physical will not have intended to end the life of the fetus and that the death of the latter can be tolerated proportionally in this case.

Works Cited

Bailey, Adam D. "The Principle of Double Effect, Permissiveness, and Intention." International Philosophical Quarterly 59.3 (2019): 277-288.

Drew, Joseph, and Bligh Grant. "Natural Law, the Principle of Double Effect, Non-Voluntary Euthanasia and Public Policy." 24th Annual AAPAE conference: Applied Ethics in the Fractured State. Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics, 2017.

Kockler, Nicholas J. "The principle of double effect and proportionate reason." AMA Journal of Ethics 9.5 (2007): 369-374.

Cite this page

Analyzing Ethical Dilemmas Using St. Thomas Aquinas' Principle of Doubt Effect - Essay Sample. (2023, Sep 13). Retrieved from

Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the SpeedyPaper website, please click below to request its removal:

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism