Death as the extinction of the source of value: the constructivist theory of death as an irreversible loss of moral status

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 45 (2):109-131 (2024)
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Abstract

In 2017, Michael Nair-Collins formulated his Transitivity Argument which claimed that brain-dead patients are alive according to a concept that defines death in terms of the loss of moral status. This article challenges Nair-Collins’ view in three steps. First, I elaborate on the concept of moral status, claiming that to understand this notion appropriately, one must grasp the distinction between direct and indirect duties. Second, I argue that his understanding of moral status implicit in the Transitivity Argument is faulty since it is not based on a distinction between direct and indirect duties. Third, I show how this flaw in Nair-Collins’ argument is grounded in the more general problems between preference utilitarianism and desire fulfillment theory. Finally, I present the constructivist theory of moral status and the associated moral concept of death and explain how this concept challenges the Transitivity Argument. According to my view, brain death constitutes a valid criterion of death since brain death is incompatible with the preserved capacity to have affective attitudes and to value anything.

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