A Heart without Life: Artificial Organs and the Lived Body

Mary Jean WALKER*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The use of artificial organs is likely to increase in the future, given technological advances, increases in chronic diseases, and limited donor organs. This article examines how artificial organs could affect people's experience and conceptualization of bodies and our understanding of the relation of body to self. I focus on artificial heart devices and argue that these have two conflicting potential influences. First, they may influence people to regard the body as machinelike and separable from the self. Second, they may effect changes to subjective experience that can be understood as changes to the self, confirming the self's embodiment. My primary purpose is to increase our understanding of what might change if it becomes more usual to have a body that is partly nonorganic. But I also argue that the analysis points to potential ethical concerns related to strengthening biomedical conceptions of the body and to the devaluing of bodies and body parts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-38
Number of pages11
JournalHastings Center Report
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy

User-Defined Keywords

  • artificial heart
  • artificial organs
  • clinical ethics
  • medical phenomenology
  • self
  • ventricular assist devices


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