The Normative Irrelevance of Intentions in Assisted Dying Cases

The Irish Supreme Court has in recent years had to consider cases dealing with end-of-life medical care, and particularly the sometimes fine distinction between humane end-of-life care and euthanasia. The Court has held that this distinction turns to a large extent on the intentions of the medical practitioners involved.”
In this paper, we consider the normative underpinnings of these cases. We argue that explanations that focus on the intentions of medical practitioners fail to justify the jurisprudence. Such intentions are epistemically inaccessible, and doctors may have conflicting intentions.
Secondly, we argue that we can make better sense of these cases by appealing to the moral value of principled consistency. Judges try to determine the principles of political morality that underpin assisted dying cases and apply them consistently across relevantly similar cases. As part of this process, they attribute intentions to doctors based on an analysis of the moral role of the doctor.