Towards an alternative approach to personhood in the end of life questions

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 21 (6):515-536 (2000)
Within the Western bioethical framework, we make adistinction between two dominant interpretations of the meaning of moral personhood: thenaturalist and the humanist one. While both interpretations of moral personhood claim topromote individual autonomy and rights, they end up with very different normativeviews on the practical and legal measures needed to realize these values in every daylife. Particularly when we talk about the end of life issues it appears that in general thearguments for euthanasia are drawn from the naturalist interpretation of moral personhoodwhile the arguments against euthanasia, for their part, are derived from the idealistand/or humanist understanding of the same concept. This article focuses onexamining the metaphysical assumptions and internal contradiction found behind the opposingarguments presented by two prominent philosophers of these two traditions:Peter Singer and Ludger Honnefelder. The author claims that neither side of thedebate succeeds in defending its normative position without reconsidering how to takethe social aspects of moral personhood into account. The author holds that, despite ourneed to set individual's decision making into social context, the currentcommunitarian narrative concept of personhood fails to offer a convincing alternative.Instead of merely trying to replace psychological and atomistic view of personhood with acollective understanding of an individual's moral identity, we need to discuss thenormative relation between the concept of `moral personhood' and the demand for respect ofindividual autonomy in Western bioethics within a wider philosophical perspective.
Keywords personhood  bioethical framework  autonomy  euthanasia
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DOI 10.1023/A:1026559716715
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