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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal
SJR: 0.123

ISSN Imprimer: 2151-805X
ISSN En ligne: 2151-8068

Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal

DOI: 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.v1.i4.20
pages 259-265

The Thorny but Pervasive Problem of Permissible Deaths

John Doyle
Cleveland C;inic


This paper is concerned with the concept of "permissible deaths," a difficult moral issue that ethicists, regulators, and policy-makers must deal with in a number of settings. In particular, the question as to how many "collateral damage" deaths are acceptable in the context of medical equipment design, the regulation of pharmaceutical products, and the conduct of war is discussed. I suggest that the various deontological approaches available are not helpful in analyzing this problem, primarily because they are intended to provide guidance against the causing of deliberate injury or harm, and do not provide guidance in the setting of unintended harm, as is the case in the permissible death problem. Similarly, the application of utilitarianism to this issue is problematic, because that would require that some kind of calculus be set up to assign specific values to various lost lives and injured parties in order to weigh them against various forms of benefit. In practice, this is an impractical task.