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Identity, Alzheimer's and End‑of‑life Care
Baylis, F. (13 Jul 2017). Identity, Alzheimer’s and end-of-life care. XXXVth International Congress on Law and Mental Health, Faculty of Law, Charles University, Prague.
Fear of Alzheimer’s disease causes many to reflect on the benefits of physician-assisted death. Many of these same individuals, however, will not choose to end their lives in this manner. They will require considerable supportive care, as they slowly lose their mind. In past work, I have outlined and defended a relational narrative account of personal identity that describes the ways in which persons “are constituted in and through their personal relationships and public interactions.” This account of identity as deeply relational permits us to recognize and valorize the social, political and cultural embeddedness and interdependence of persons, and makes transparent the many ways in which past and present, private and public relationships shape a person’s identity. Building on this work, I explore my personal journey with my mother, who has been living with, and dying from, Alzheimer’s disease for the past decade. In it, I demonstrate the inadequacies of conventional, static and autonomous notions of identity, illustrating instead the way in which identity is fluid, and informed by relationships. Ultimately, this vision of personal identity serves not only to make sense of my mother, as a person who is changing before my eyes, but also to provide a bulwark against the notion of “lost identity,” which is typically seen as the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
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