Journal of Ethics 9 (3-4):501-515 (2005)

William Ruddick
New York University
After reviewing the history, rationale, and Jim Rachels’ varied uses of the notion of biographical lives, the essay further develops its social dimensions and proposes an ontological analysis. Whether one person is leading one life or more turns on the number of separate social worlds he or she creates and maintains. Furthermore, lives are constituted by narrated events in a story. Lives, however, are not stories, but rather are extended “verbal objects,” that is, “narrative objects” with a hybrid character, both linguistic and by inference non-verbal. In this they are like facts, propositions, and histories, grasped only through their verbal expression. Being narrative and socially embedded, lives can arguably be extended beyond the death of the principal liver of a life by the commemorative actions of those who shared it. Jim hoped to persuade doctors to shift from a traditional Sanctity of Life principle to a Sanctity of Lives principle. Accordingly, they could stop pointless prolongation of biological life once a patient permanently loses consciousness, his criterion of the end of a biographical life. It might seem that allowing lives to be extended past that point or death would forego that clinical benefit, but that is not so.
Keywords biographical lives  James Rachels  multiple lives  narrative objects  post-mortem harms and benefits  Sanctity of Life  withdrawing treatment
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DOI 10.1007/s10892-005-3520-2
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