The doctrine of double effect: A review for the bedside nurse providing end-of-life care

Dorothy Wholihan, Ellen Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Nurses on the front lines of palliative care are frequently presented with ethically challenging situations involving the use of palliative sedation and increasing opioids at the end of life. The doctrine of double effect is an ethical principle dating back to the 13th century that explains how the bad consequences of an action can be considered ethically justified if the original intent was for good intention. This article examines the doctrine of double effect through case examples and presents supporting and opposing opinions about its relevance to clinical practice. Implications for nursing care are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-211
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017



  • Doctrine of double effect
  • Ethics
  • Palliative care
  • Palliative sedation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Community and Home Care
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing

Cite this