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What Happens if the Brain Goes Elsewhere? Puzzles about Persons, Identity, and Embodiment

11 Mar 2024
Seminar and ColloquiumCentre for Applied Ethics
11 Mar 2024
WLB 207
Mark J. Cherry, Dr. Patricia A. Hayes Professor in Applied Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas.


Brain transplants have long been merely the subject of science fiction and engaging thought experiments. No longer. Neuroscientists have announced their intention to transplant the head of a volunteer onto a donated body. Response has been decidedly mixed. How should we think about the moral permissibility of head transplants? Is it a lifesaving/life-enhancing opportunity that appropriately expands the boundaries of medical practice? Or, is it a bioethical morass that ought not to be attempted? For the purposes of this paper, I set aside questions regarding the surgical operation’s technological plausibility to focus on very basic questions regarding the morality of head transplantation. Analysis begins with exploration of human embodiment. It considers ways in which persons can be conceptually distinguished from all parts of their body, even if they can only be physically separated from most. It argues that in most cases replacing body parts with reasonably similar parts will not destroy the conditions for sustaining personal identity. However, the phenomenology of personhood is such that some physical changes may prove to be too significant successfully to maintain personal identity over time. 




Mark J. Cherry is the Dr. Patricia A. Hayes Professor in Applied Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Houston and his doctorate degree in philosophy from Rice University in Houston, Texas.


His research compasses ethics and bioethics, together with social and political philosophy. He is Editor of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (Oxford University Press), Senior Editor of Christian Bioethics (Oxford University Press), and Editor-in-Chief of HealthCare Ethics Committee Forum (Springer); he is Co-editor of the book series The Annals of Bioethics (Routledge) and Editor of the book series Philosophical Studies in Contemporary Culture (Springer).
He is author of Kidney for Sale by Owner: Human Organs, Transplantation, and the Market (Georgetown University Press, 2005/2015); Sex, Family, and the Culture Wars (Routledge, 2016); and Weak Bioethics (University of Notre Dame Press, forthcoming 2023), in addition to numerous book chapters, articles and other publications.