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Are the Irreversibly Comatose Still Here? The Destruction of Brains and the Persistence of Persons

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Lukas Jost Meier

School/Research organisations


When an individual is comatose while parts of her brain remain functional, the question arises as to whether any mental characteristics are still associated with this brain, that is, whether the person still exists. Settling this uncertainty requires that one becomes clear about two issues: the type of functional loss that is associated with the respective profile of brain damage and the persistence conditions of persons. Medical case studies can answer the former question, but they are not concerned with the latter. Conversely, in the philosophical literature, various accounts of personal identity are discussed, but usually detached from any empirical basis. Only uniting the two debates and interpreting the real-life configurations of brain damage through the lens of the philosophical concepts enables one to make an informed judgment regarding the persistence of comatose persons. Especially challenging are cases in which three mental characteristics that normally occur together—wakefulness, awareness and memory storage—come apart. These shall be the focus of this paper.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-103
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2020

    Research areas

  • Coma, Persistent Vegetative State, Brain, Death, Brain Death, Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome, Personal identity, John Locke, Derek Parfit, Jeff McMahan

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