Physicians duties and the non-identity problem

T Hope, John McMillan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    The non-identity problem arises when an intervention or behavior changes the identity of those affected. Delaying pregnancy is an example of such a behavior. The problem is whether and in what ways such changes in identity affect moral considerations. While a great deal has been written about the non-identity problem, relatively little has been written about the implications for physicians and how they should understand their duties. We argue that the non-identity problem can make a crucial moral difference in some circumstances, and that it has some interesting implications for when it is or is not right for a physician to refuse to accede to a patient's request. If a physician is asked to provide an intervention (identity preserving) that makes a person worse off, then such harm provides a good reason for the physician to refuse to provide the intervention. However, in cases where different (identity-altering) interventions result in different people having a better or worse life, physicians should normally respect patient choice.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-29
    Number of pages9
    JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


    • disability
    • doctors
    • duty
    • harm
    • identity
    • non-identity problem
    • physicians
    • reproductive choice
    • wrongful life


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