The insignificance of personal identity for bioethics

Bioethics. 2010 Nov;24(9):481-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01719.x.


It has long been thought that certain key bioethical views depend heavily on work in personal identity theory, regarding questions of either our essence or the conditions of our numerical identity across time. In this paper I argue to the contrary, that personal identity is actually not significant at all in this arena. Specifically, I explore three topics where considerations of identity are thought to be essential - abortion, definition of death, and advance directives - and I show in each case that the significant work is being done by a relation other than identity.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / ethics*
  • Abortion, Induced / psychology
  • Advance Directives / ethics*
  • Advance Directives / psychology
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Ego*
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological*