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Doctrine clarification

Zach Harris | Monday, September 3, 2012

In the letter “ND needs to reconsider lawsuit” (Aug. 28) and the petition mentioned in that letter, author Rossi suggests that the University could justifiably comply in good Catholic conscience with the HHS mandate to provide contraceptive services due to the doctrine of double effect. While I welcome continuing dialogue regarding the HHS mandate, contraception and the University’s decision to sue, I would like to submit an explanation as to why the doctrine of double effect is not applicable in this instance. Because the previously mentioned letter and petition attempt to use Catholic principles and teachings to justify their arguments, I, too, will argue from this basis. As such, the good effect being considered is providing healthcare whereas the bad effect is providing contraceptives for contraceptive purposes.

According to The New Catholic Encyclopedia, four conditions must be met for the doctrine of double effect to apply. Rossi’s suggestion fails most clearly due to condition two, which states, “The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary” (1021).

Just as it has in previous years, the University could continue to provide healthcare without providing contraceptive services, therefore achieving the good effect without the bad effect. Thus Rossi’s argument clearly fails the second statement of condition two and the doctrine of double effect cannot be applied in the manner he suggests. I will not concern myself with conditions one, three and four, but would be open to allowing that providing contraception in order to comply with the new healthcare laws may meet these conditions; regardless, all four conditions must be met for the doctrine of double effect to apply. Because the University could provide healthcare without providing contraception, condition two of the doctrine of double effect is not met, and this doctrine cannot be applied.

Peace in Christ,

Zach Harris
Siegfried Hall
Sept. 2