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The Doubling Undone? Double Effect in Recent Medical Ethics
This article treats recent bioethical discussions of double effect reasoning (DER), offering a summary account of DER and construing it as rooted in a sensible view of what is central to someone's identity as a moral agent. It then treats objections raised in recent years by Judith Thomson, Alison McIntyre, and Frances Kamm against familiar ways of applying DER to certain controversies within medical ethics, especially, that over physician-assisted suicide. After detailing, interpreting, and attempting to rebut the challenges from these philosophers, who are especially interesting because their criticisms of DER come from allies in DER's struggle against consequentialist reasoning, the essay engages DER's contribution to a recent dispute over treatment of patients in what is called ‘persistent vegetative state.' Near its end, the paper sketches several possible points of entry to DER and sources of justification for it. The essay concludes by indicating a connection between these paths and its opening idea of moral identity.