Republicans are Opposed to Torture, Too

Professor R.R. Reno, writing in First Things with great style:
The principle of double effect tries to parse the goal or intention of an action from its likely outcome. Let’s say that a woman’s life is threatened by cancerous tumor in her uterus — and she is also pregnant. The principle of double effect allows us to distinguish between what the doctor intends to do as he removes the cancerous tumor, which is to cut it out, from what he foresees to be a result, which not just the removal of the cancer but also the likely spontaneous abortion of the fetus.

St. Thomas applies this principle to self-defense, not because killing an unjust aggressor is wrong, but because Jesus seems to prohibit self-defense when he tells us to turn the other cheek. Here is how the reasoning works. A man attacks me in the dark. In order to protect myself, I grab a pipe and hit him over the head. I intend to defend myself, but I foresee that the hard blow may well kill him.

There are two important constraints to the principle of double effect.

First, double effect can never be used to justify an intrinsically evil act, and for the obvious reason that intentionally undertaking intrinsically evil acts cannot, by definition, be justified. John Paul II was crystal clear on this point in Veritatis Splendor. So let’s go back to the examples. There is nothing immoral about removing cancerous tumors. There is also nothing immoral about killing assailants who pose an immediate threat to innocent life (again, the moral problem for St. Thomas rests in self-defense, not using lethal force against aggressors.)

Waterboarding? If it is torture, then it is immoral in itself. Double effect can’t change that fact.


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