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On replacement body parts

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Version 2 2022-12-21, 05:00
Version 1 2021-01-08, 01:09
journal contribution
posted on 2021-01-08, 01:09 authored by Mary WalkerMary Walker
© 2018, Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. Technological advances are making devices that functionally replace body parts—artificial organs and limbs—more widely used, and more capable of providing patients with lives that are close to “normal.” Some of the ethical issues this is likely to raise relate to how such prostheses are conceptualized. Prostheses are ambiguous between being inanimate objects and sharing in the status of human bodies—which already have an ambiguous status, as both objects and subjects. At the same time, the possibility of replacing body parts with artificial objects puts pressure on the normative status typically accorded to human bodies, seemingly confirming that body parts are replaceable objects. The paper argues that bodies’ normative status relies on the relation of a body to a person and shows that persons could have similar relations to prostheses. This suggests that in approaching ethical issues surrounding prostheses, it is appropriate to regard them as more like body parts than like objects.


This research was supported by Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence funding scheme (grant ID CE140100012). My thanks to Robert Sparrow for extensive comments on several drafts of the paper. Thanks also to other members of the ethics and policy team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science and participants at the 2017 European Society for Philosophy of Medicine and Healthcare Conference, for helpful comments and questions.


Publication Date



Journal of Bioethical Inquiry






13p. (p. 61-73)


Springer Nature



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