A prominent view on personal identity over time, Jeff McMahan's 'Embodied Mind Account' (2002) holds that we cease to exist only once our brains can no longer sustain the basic capacity to uphold consciousness. One of the many implications of this view on identity persistence is that we continue to exist throughout even the most severe cases of dementia, until our consciousness irreversibly shuts down. In this paper, I argue that, while the most convincing of prominent accounts of personal identity over time, McMahan's account faces serious challenges in explanatory power of dementias and related neurodegenerative conditions. Particularly, this becomes visible in the face of emerging methods for neural tissue regeneration, and the possibility of 're-emerging patients'. I argue that medical professionals' neglecting qualitative aspects of identity risks resulting in grave misunderstandings in decision-making processes, and ethically objectionable outcomes in future practices. Finally, I propose revisions which could potentially salvage the great benefits that Embodied Mind Theory still can bring to the field of dementia care in terms of understanding life, death, and identity across the lifespan.
J Med Ethics
applied and professional ethics, dementia, neuroethics, philosophical ethics, philosophy of medicine