Omissions, causation and responsibility
McGee, Andrew (2011) Omissions, causation and responsibility. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 8(4), pp. 351-361.
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 them both 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.
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