Oral Presentation Australasian Association of Bioethics & Health Law and New Zealand Bioethics Conference

Phenomenology and artificial hearts (1013)

Pat T McConville 1
  1. Monash University, Murrumbeena, VIC, Australia

New and emerging biomedical devices radicalise the relationship between worldly, material objects and the feeling, experiencing human subjectivities which make use of them. Rather than scaffolding native ways of understanding and capacities present in human subjectivity, some biomedical devices may be able to generate new and supplant antecedent, physiological ways of comporting to the world.

In this talk, I consider the phenomenological approach offered by Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a way of understanding this relationship and the structures of subjectivity.

I survey artificial hearts and other cardiac devices in terms of the straightforwardly bioethical issues they pose, such as ownership and incorporation of the device, dependence on healthcare professionals and technicians, anxiety about device failure, and responsibility and expanded decision-making power brought about by being able to adjust and switch off devices.

I also introduce some of the more intimately phenomenological complications they may entail, such as explicit biotechnological representation of bodily states which are usually felt, the loss of cardioceptive and metaphorical resources to understand and explain one’s emotional state, and the link between the heartbeat and subjective temporality which may be threatened by non-pulsatile heart devices.