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Death, posthumous harm, and bioethics
  1. James Stacey Taylor
  1. Correspondence to Dr James Stacey Taylor, Department of Philosophy, The College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington, Ewing, NJ 08626, USA; jtaylor{at}

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If pressed to identify the philosophical foundations of contemporary bioethics, most bioethicists would cite the four-principles approach developed by Tom L Beauchamp and James F Childress,1 or perhaps the ethical theories of JS Mill2 or Immanuel Kant.3 Few would cite Aristotle's metaphysical views surrounding death and posthumous harm.4 Nevertheless, many contemporary bioethical discussions are implicitly grounded in the Aristotelian views that death is a harm to the one who dies, and that persons can be harmed, or wronged, by events that occur after their deaths. The view that death is (typically) a harm to the one who dies infuses, for example, the debates over abortion and euthanasia, while the view that persons could be harmed or wronged after their deaths informs much of the debate over, for example, policies for the posthumous procurement of transplant and the ethics of research on the dead.

In Death, Posthumous Harm, and Bioethics, I argue that we should reject this cluster of influential Aristotelian thanatological claims, and instead endorse a trio of views that together constitute what I term full-blooded epicureanism: That death is not a harm to the person who dies, and that persons can neither be harmed nor wronged by events that occur after their deaths. …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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