Medicine Studies

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 393–406 | Cite as

Am I Still Me? Personal Identity in Neuroethical Debates

Original Paper


Neurosurgery is a topic that evokes many hopes and fears at the same time. One of these fears is concerned with the worry about losing one's identity. Taking this concern seriously, the article deals with the question: Can the concept of ‘personal identity’ be used successfully in normative considerations concerning neurosurgery? This question will be answered in three steps. First, a short introduction to the philosophical debate about personal identity is given. Second, a new theory of personal identity is presented. This theory has two components. On the one hand, it explains the phenomenon of human existence through time. On the other hand, it demonstrates the normative concept of personal identity. The final step proves the explanatory power of the theory on the basis of a practical example, namely deep brain stimulation. It will be shown that personal identity alters quite easily, whereas human persistence is rather stable. The distinction between both concepts finally serves to develop a terminology that is able to structure normative debates very effectively.


Personal identity Persistence Moral status Deep brain stimulation Parkinson's disease Obsessive compulsive disorder 



The preparation of this article would not have been possible without the support of the International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW), the Research Training Group ‘Bioethics’ (DFG GRK 889/1) and finally the German Research Foundation (DFG). Furthermore, I would like to thank Tobias Meilinger and Johanna Steffen for their help with the English language.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)University of TübingenTübingenGermany

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