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Some notes on the nature and limits of posthumous rights: a response to Persad


A person’s body can, it seems, survive well after losing the capacity to support Lockean personhood. If our rights in our bodies are, basically, rights in our selves or persons, this seems to imply that we do not after all have a right to direct the disposition of our living remains via advance directive. Govind Persad argues that our rights over our bodies persist after the loss of our personhood; we have a right to insist that our bodies die after we are gone for much the same reason that we have a right to decide whether or not to donate organs, after our death. Persad’s conclusion may be right; however, his arguments regarding body rights are insufficient. Persad’s suggestion that our rights in our bodies come from a history of acting and sensing through them cannot, quite, be right, since we act and sense through tools, as well. Nor should we accept Persad’s arguments, from intuitions in cases involving posthumous pregnancy, that our posthumous body rights (however acquired) are powerful enough to allow choices that will result in the death of beings that need our living remains to survive. Problems with these intuitions point to a more general concern for this sort of case-based intuitionistic method: it presupposes that what body rights we have is a matter of ‘natural right’, accessible to all, rather than a function of how social institutions do or should resolve conflicts about the proper way of defining our authority over our bodies.

  • living wills/advance directives
  • abortion
  • philosophical ethics

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