On acts, omissions and responsibility

Centre for Social Ethics and Policy and Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, School of Law, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.
Journal of medical ethics (Impact Factor: 1.51). 09/2008; 34(8):576-9. DOI: 10.1136/jme.2008.024729
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    • "Yet the implication that everyone in the world may be the cause of the window being open is reflected by other comments he makes. He draws a distinction between two kinds of omissions, omissions 'over which one has no power, such as the failure to save the lives of people whom it would be physically impossible to rescue'(Coggon 2008: 578) and omissions over which one does have such power. It seems as though, for Coggon, one can omit even if one has no power whether to omit or not, but it is only omissions over which one does have power for which one can be morally responsible. "
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    ABSTRACT: In this paper I discuss a recent exchange of articles between Hugh McLachlan and John Coggon on the relationship between omissions, causation, and moral responsibility. My aim is to contribute to their debate by isolating a presupposition I believe they both share and by questioning that presupposition. The presupposition is that, at any given moment, there are countless things that I am omitting to do. This leads both McLachlan and Coggon to give a distorted account of the relationship between causation and moral or (as the case may be) legal responsibility and, in the case of Coggon, to claim that the law’s conception of causation is a fiction based on policy. Once it is seen that this presupposition is faulty, we can attain a more accurate view of the logical relationship between causation and moral responsibility in the case of omissions. This is important because it will enable us, in turn, to understand why the law continues to regard omissions as different, both logically and morally, from acts, and why the law seeks to track that logical and moral difference in the legal distinction it draws between withholding life-sustaining measures and euthanasia. KeywordsOmissions–Causation–Responsibility–Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining measures–Euthanasia
    Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 11/2011; 8(4):351-361. DOI:10.1007/s11673-011-9330-2 · 0.75 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In a recent issue of Neuroethics, I considered whether the notion of human dignity could help us in solving the moral problems the advent of the diagnostic category of minimally conscious state (MCS) has brought forth. I argued that there is no adequate account of what justifies bestowing all MCS patients with the special worth referred to as human dignity. Therefore, I concluded, unless that difficulty can be solved we should resort to other values than human dignity in addressing the moral problems MCS poses. In his new book Christopher Kaczor criticizes the argument I put forward. Below, I respond to Kaczor’s criticism. I maintain that the considerations he presents do not undermine my argument nor succeed in providing adequate justification for the view that all MCS patients possess the worth referred to as human dignity.
    Neuroethics 04/2011; 6(1). DOI:10.1007/s12152-011-9147-z · 1.31 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: David Shaw presents a new argument to support the old claim that there is not a significant moral difference between killing and letting die and, by implication, between active and passive euthanasia. He concludes that doctors should not make a distinction between them. However, whether or not killing and letting die are morally equivalent is not as important a question as he suggests. One can justify legal distinctions on non-moral grounds. One might oppose physician-assisted suicide and active euthanasia when performed by doctors on patients whether or not one is in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide and active euthanasia. Furthermore, one can consider particular actions to be contrary to appropriate professional conduct even in the absence of legal and ethical objections to them. Someone who wants to die might want only a doctor to kill him or to help him to kill himself. However, we are not entitled to everything that we want in life or death. A doctor cannot always fittingly provide all that a patient wants or needs. It is appropriate that doctors provide their expert advice with regard to the performance of active euthanasia but they can and should do so while, qua doctors, they remain hors de combat.
    Journal of medical ethics 05/2010; 36(5):306-9. DOI:10.1136/jme.2009.033118 · 1.51 Impact Factor
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