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A Moment Dead, a Moment Alive: How a Situational Personhood Emerges in the Vegetative State in an Israeli Hospital Unit



ABSTRACT  Here we address the personhood of patients in a permanent vegetative state (PVS), who fall outside categories of “alive” or “dead” and “subject” or “object.” Drawing on fieldwork in an Israeli hospital, we examine multiple and shifting approaches to PVS patients, which are articulated in the course of caring for and living with them. We argue that, alongside the institutional definition of these patients as being in a PVS, which, as Kaufman showed, evokes irresolvable confusion as to their ontological nature, there appear and disappear other senses of their personhood. Allying with other studies of cognitively impaired patients (e.g., those with dementia and Alzheimer's), we explore this relational person-concept while demonstrating its situational nature. We analyze patients’ admission to the hospital, showing how their essentialistic personhood is “emptied” and how and when their fluid, relational personhood appears and disappears, further showing how this personhood is reified by imagined life stories.