A couple of weeks ago at First Things' On the Square blog, George Weigel defended the prinicple of double-effect against attempts to apply it to the Phoenix case, in which Bishop Olmstead determined that St. Joseph's hospital had carried out a direct abortion. The argument in favor of applying it is presumably that the woman's life was in imminent danger, and that therefore the baby could be aborted as an unfortunate and foreseen, but unintended, bad effect of saving the woman's life, an unquestionable good.
Weigel, quoting the National Catholic Bioethics Center, reminds us of the principle's particulars:
The principle of double effect in the Church’s moral tradition teaches that one may perform a good action even if it is foreseen that a bad effect will arise only if four conditions are met: 1) The act itself must be good. 2) The only thing that one can intend is the good act, not the foreseen but unintended bad effect. 3) The good effect cannot arise from the bad effect; otherwise, one would do evil to achieve good. 4) The unintended but foreseen bad effect cannot be disproportionate to the good being performed.
The problem, obviously, is that in the Phoenix case all four points have likely been violated. Weigel (again drawing from the NCBC) then offers a scenario in which he believes the principle would validly apply:
The classic case of a difficult pregnancy to which this principle can be applied is the pregnant woman who has advanced uterine cancer. The removal of the cancerous uterus will result in the death of the baby but it would be permissible under the principle of double effect.
One can see how the conditions would be satisfied in this case: 1) The act itself is good; it is the removal of a diseased organ. 2) All that one intends is the removal of the diseased organ. One does not want the death of the baby, either as a means or an end. Nonetheless, one sees that the unborn child will die as a result of the removal of the diseased organ. 3) The good action, the healing of the woman, arises from the removal of the diseased uterus, not from the regrettable death of the baby which is foreseen and unintended. 4) The unintended and indirect death of the child is not disproportionate to the good which is done, which is saving the mother’s life.
I'm not sure why the uterine cancer has to be "advanced," but still: In applying the principle to this example, is Weigel correct?