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Neuroethics in Practice$
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Anjan Chatterjee and Martha J. Farah

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780195389784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195389784.001.0001

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Personhood, Consciousness, and Severe Brain Damage

Personhood, Consciousness, and Severe Brain Damage

Chapter:
(p.175) 14 Personhood, Consciousness, and Severe Brain Damage
Source:
Neuroethics in Practice
Author(s):

Martha J. Farah

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195389784.003.0014

The concept of personhood is closely intertwined with concepts of morality in most people’s minds, and bioethical arguments sometimes turn on the question of whether someone or something is a person. Although normal adult humans are prototypical persons, severe brain damage can bring an adult human’s personhood into question. This chapter reviews the concept of personhood, a familiar and intuitive concept that plays a central role in ethics and law, but is nevertheless difficult to define precisely. After surveying the literature on criteria for personhood, three general, inter-related aspects of personhood will be taken to be a working definition with which to address the second goal: Relating the concept of personhood to our clinical knowledge about severely brain-damaged humans. The limitations of traditional clinical methods will be reviewed, motivating a new approach using functional neuroimaging. The third goal of this chapter is to review the ways in which imaging has been used for assessing the mental life of severely brain-damaged patients, distinguishing among different forms of inference using functional imaging data and differing strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

Keywords:   personhood, bioethics, ethics, law, brain damage, functional neuroimaging, assessment

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