How is the body articulated in language and discourse during end-of-life decision making? How do individuals and their family members represent and define the relationships between person, body, and self? Recently, studies have been conducted on the decision-making process in the field of end-of-life care. Most researchers focus on patients’ determination (vis-à-vis physicians’ beneficence), which gives rise to a plethora of issues, such as patients’ self-identity, self-continuity, relationships, freedom of choice, and rights.
In this paper, end-of-life decision making is considered from the perspective of the relationship between the body and one’s personal identity. It is argued that the current bioethical discourse on individual autonomy and patients’ rights is inadequate to address the ethical issues relating to end-of-life decision making. Instead of purely theoretically conceptualizing the sovereignty of the patient over his or her body, the author explores the issue in relation to the phenomenology of lived-body experience as described by the American bioethicist Margret P. Battin. The rights available to the patient are not the only significant issue during end-of-life decision-making; aspects of the patient’s physicality are also relevant. Discourse on representations of the body and embodied action/autonomy aids our understanding of end-of-life choices. Finally, these body-related issues are linked with the Confucian understanding of what a person is. According to Confucian ethics, personal identity should not be viewed as an abstract “thing”; instead, it is defined by a person’s relationships with others, especially family members, in his/her most vulnerable moments.