ethics

Applying the principle of double-effect to both cases below. Explain the ways in which they do or do not fulfill the four criteria, and therefore either are or are not justified according to Natural Law.

1. A young woman who is four months pregnant has recently discovered that she has tuberculosis. The doctor informs her that she must take a drug that will cure her disease, but that the drug will also have the effect of aborting the fetus. There is no other available drug that will cure her disease, and if she does not take the drug immediately she will die. According to natural law, may the young woman take the drug?

2. In the process of attempting to deliver a fetus, a physician discovers that the fetus is hydrocephalic. The fetus’s large cranium makes a normal vaginal delivery impossible; both the woman and fetus would die in the attempt. Neither the mother nor the fetus would survive a cesarean section, so the only way to save the mother’s life is to crush the skull of the fetus (craniotomy), thus rendering a vaginal delivery of the stillborn fetus possible. Would such a procedure be justified by natural law?

These are the principles of the double effect ….
According to this principle, it is morally permissible to perform an action that has two effects, one good and the other bad, if all of the following criteria are met:

1. The act, considered in itself and apart from its consequences, is good, or at least morally permissible.

2. The bad effect cannot be avoided if the good effect is to be achieved (i.e., there are no alternative means of achieving the good effect in this situation). If such an alternative exists but is not taken, then the bad effect was intentional.

3. The bad effect is not the means of producing the good effect but only a side effect. If the bad effect is a necessary means of achieving the good effect, the bad effect must be intended along with the good effect for which it is a necessary means, so the action is morally impermissible.

4. If conditions 1, 2, and 3 are met, the good effect must proportionally outweigh the bad effect. If the bad effect is far more significant than any good effect, the action should not be done
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