Neuroethics and Brain Death


James Beauregard: Neuroethics has wide-ranging implications for law, therapy, forensics, etc.

The dangers of scientism: science is the only path to knowledge, people are nothing but res extensa. Philosophy should be replaced by science.

Gazzaniga: evidence shows that fetal brains show no ability to sense. Neuroethical questions are ultimately life and death questions.

Content: neuroscience can give us lots of info, but runs into problems when it oversteps its limits.

Personalism is the the remedy for this: we are someone, not something. Phenomenology can help us to understand human subjectivity. Only personalism can protect human dignity.

Libet: later denied that his work precluded free will. Since scientists can’t experimentally show we don’t have free will, then we must.

Eike-Henner W. Kluge: Works as consultant in health care. The distinction between socialized and capitalistic health care is one of resource allocation. In private health care, there is no consideration of need or justice, only ability to pay.

Socialized medicine, on the other hand, treats only people. People in permanent vegetative states (PVS) are no longer people, therefore consume resources ($24 billion per year) hwich could usefully be used elsewhere.

Aquinas argues that each thing (human, horse, etc.) possesses an essence which determines its proper function and its identity. For humans, body and soul are required for proper function (the ability to reason). Once the soul leaves the body (at death) the body can only be called “human” in an equivocal sense. Following Aristotle, if the body cannot fulfil its proper function, then a biologically human body in PVS is no longer a person. Thus saving us much needed resources for actual persons. Aquinas calls this relative corruption, whereby a thing is changed into another thing without being completely destroyed. Another medevial commentator argues that rationality can depart, leaving only life.

Keeping PVS bodies and anacephalic babies alive deprives actual persons of life-saving health care.

Comments: We’re starting to see questions about the definition of “personhood.” I think some conference participants just assume that all living humans are persons. In his remarks, Burgos ridiculed Kluge’s argument on the grounds that early stage blastocysts would not be persons. But the reductio was not as compelling to me as it was perhaps to some. Burgos also thinks we shouldn’t decide who counts as a person and who doesn’t; and for the usual reasons: te possibility of disagreement, slippery slopes, etc.


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