ABSTRACT

Dr John Bodkin Adams administered large doses of heroin and morphine to Mrs Morrell. Dr Adams was acquitted after what was then the longest murder trial ever in this jurisdiction. Courts in other common law countries have also been willing to assume that the principle of double effect renders life-shortening palliative care legal. No appellate court has therefore had the opportunity to authoritatively consider and rule on the legal status of the principle of double effect. The idealised judgment does not imply the legality of immediate mercy killing, because the legal context requires Athena J to give a restrictive interpretation to the principle of the lesser of two evils. Athena J invokes the defence of necessity in a situation where committing a legal wrong is justified, not merely excused. The Attorney-General elaborated the distinction drawn by proponents of the doctrine of double effect between an intended effect and an incidental side-effect.