The value of consciousness in medicine

In Uriah Kriegel (ed.), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind, Volume 1. Oxford, UK: pp. 65-85 (2021)
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We generally accept that medicine’s conceptual and ethical foundations are grounded in recognition of personhood. With patients in vegetative state, however, we’ve understood that the ethical implications of phenomenal consciousness are distinct from those of personhood. This suggests a need to reconsider medicine’s foundations. What is the role for recognition of consciousness (rather than personhood) in grounding the moral value of medicine and the specific demands of clinical ethics? I suggest that, according to holism, the moral value of medicine is secured when conscious states are recognized in everyday medical science. Moreover, consciousness fully motivates traditional principles of clinical ethics if we understand respect for autonomy as respect for the dominion of an experiencer in the private, inescapable realm of bodily experience. When medicine’s foundations are grounded in recognition of consciousness, we understand how patients fully command respect even when they lack capacity to exercise their bodily dominion through decision-making.

Author's Profile

Diane O'Leary
University of Sydney (PhD)


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