Still Human: A Thomistic Analysis of ‘Persistent Vegetative State’

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Studies in Christian Ethics


Would Aquinas hold the view that a patient in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) is something other than a human being? Some recent interpreters have argued for this position. I contend that this reading is grounded in a false symmetry between the three stages of Aquinas’s embryology and the (alleged) three-stage process of death. Instead, I show that there are textual grounds for rejecting the view that the absence of higher brain activity in a patient would lead Aquinas to say that the patient no longer has a rational soul. On my reading of Aquinas, the patient in PVS has a rational soul and is unequivocally a human being/