The theme of this month’s issue sounds theoretical in the extreme, the purview of philosophers and theologians. But the questions posed by the concept—“Are all humans persons?” “When does personhood begin and when does it end?” “Is one view of personhood enshrined by scientific medicine?” “Is there clinical significance to the concept of personhood?”—these are central to medical practice and become more relevant with every advance in scientific understanding of the brain, the mind, and the connection between the two.
Critical skills required to weigh decisions with serious consequences, manipulate information rationally, and choose wisely are skills that are likely to be impaired by frontal lobe injury that results in personality change.
Not all cultural traditions have the same conception of personhood. In Confucianism, self-individuation takes place only through engagement with others in the context of one’s social roles and relationships.
The history of Western medicine chronicles a tension between ideologies of patient care—the holistic Hippocratic view and the specialization view, with a depersonalization of the patient that coincides with the rise of pathologic anatomy in the early modern era.