Hastening Death and the Boundaries of the Self
Jansen, Lynn A.
Bioethics 2006 April; 20(2): 105-111
When applying moral principles to concrete cases, we assume a background shared understanding of the boundaries of the persons to whom the principles apply. In most contexts, this assumption is unproblematic. However, in end-of-life contexts, when patients are receiving 'artificial' life-support, judgments about where a person's self begins and ends can become controversial. To illustrate this possibility, this paper presents a case in which a decision must be made whether to deactivate a patient's pacemaker as a means to hasten his death. After discussing some common moral principles that are often applied to resolve ethical problems at the end of life and after explaining why they are of no help here, the paper argues that the correct analysis of this case, and of cases of this sort, turns on considerations that relate to the constitution of the self. These considerations, the paper further argues, sometimes resist resolution. The constitution of the self is fixed in large measure by our concepts and social conventions, and these do not always provide determinate grounds for delimiting the boundaries of the self.
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