Attitudes towards Personhood in the Locked-in Syndrome: from Third- to First- Person Perspective and to Interpersonal Significance

Neuroethics 13 (2):1-9 (2018)
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Personhood is ascribed on others, such that someone who is recognized to be a person is bestowed with certain civil rights and the right to decision making. A rising question is how severely brain-injured patients who regain consciousness can also regain their personhood. The case of patients with locked-in syndrome is illustrative in this matter. Upon restoration of consciousness, patients with LIS find themselves in a state of profound demolition of their bodily functions. From the third-person perspective, it can be expected that LIS patients might experience a differential personal identity and may lose their status as persons. However, from the patients’ perspective, it is uncontested that they retain their personal identity and that they consider themselves to be persons. We here include results from a survey with patients with LIS aimed at identifying the primary expectations of patients for their care by non-medical professionals. Based on these first-hand reports, we argue that personhood in LIS is progressively regained as the widening circle of others recognizes them as persons.



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Marie-Christine Nizzi
Harvard University