The Double Effect: In Theory and in Practice

  • Lynn R. Webster


It is not always possible to perform clinical interventions that benefit a patient without also triggering some degree of harm. The double effect (DE) is both a moral and pragmatic principle to determine whether the good outcome resulting from an action outweighs any detrimental secondary effects. The principle’s underpinnings are lodged in medieval, theological thought, and the continuing clinical significance of DE to a diverse, technological society is the subject of much debate among scientists and philosophers. In the scientific literature, DE is most often invoked to address questions of what is moral and ethical in end-of-life care.


Palliative Care Respiratory Depression Patient Autonomy Double Effect Hippocratic Oath 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Beth Dove of Dove Medical Communications, Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed technical writing and manuscript review. (Note: Please note the spelling of Dove – not Dover – Medical Communications).


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Copyright information

© American Academy of Pain Medicine 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical ResearchSalt Lake CityUSA

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