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Personhood and Disorders of Consciousness: Finding Room in Person-Centered Healthcare

Bianca Andrade, Marco Antonio Azevedo


Advocates of the Person-Centered Healthcare (PCH) approach say that PCH is a response to a failure of caring for patients as persons. Nevertheless, there are many human subjects falling to fulfill the requirements of a traditional philosophical definition of personhood. Hence, if we take, PCH seriously, a greater clarification of the key terminology of PCH is urgently needed. It seems necessary, for instance, that the concept of the person should be extended in order to include those individuals with insipient or immature levels of consciousness, as well as those who are severely and permanently mentally handicapped. In this article, we will depart from some well-known philosophical concepts of what it means to be a person and try to offer a broader and more inclusive meaning. We suggest that persons are human beings with a socially recognized biography, which implies to recognize as persons individuals with necessities, but also with narratives about their interests and claims, expressed sometimes by other people related to them. This is particularly the case of individuals that suffer from severe disorders of consciousness. For those, is not only care that matters; respect matters too. Caregivers should therefore not only sympathetically care for the well-being of these people; they should also be concerned to respect their interests and claims by interpreting them empathetically, in the light of their biographical story. Our conclusion is that, in order to be coherent, PCH must consider individuals with severe disorders of consciousness as persons and we think that our revised concept of personhood fits with this requirement.


Biography, disorders of consciousness, narratives, ontology of personhood, personal identity, person-centered healthcare, personhood

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