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Personal Identity, Autonomy and Advance Statements

ANTHONY WRIGLEY
Journal of Applied Philosophy
Vol. 24, No. 4 (2007), pp. 381-396
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24355096
Page Count: 16
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Personal Identity, Autonomy and Advance Statements
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Abstract

Recent legal rulings concerning the status of advance statements have raised interest in the topic but failed to provide any definitive general guidelines for their enforcement. I examine arguments used to justify the moral authority of such statements. The fundamental ethical issue I am concerned with is how accounts of personal identity underpin our account of moral authority through the connection between personal identity and autonomy. I focus on how recent Animalist accounts of personal identity initially appear to provide a sound basis for extending the moral autonomy of an individual — and hence their autonomous wishes expressed through an advance statement — past the point of severe psychological decline. I argue that neither the traditional psychological account nor the more recent Animalist account of personal identity manage to provide a sufficient basis for extending our moral autonomy past the point of incapacity or incompetence. I briefly explore how analogies to similar areas in law designed to facilitate autonomous decision, such as wills and trusts, provide at best only very limited scope for an alternative justification for granting advance statements any legal or moral authority. I conclude that whilst advance statements play a useful role in formulating what treatment is in a patient's best interests, such statements do not ultimately have sufficient moral force to take precedence over paternalistic best interests judgements concerning an individual's care or treatment.

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