Autonomy and Time Travel

Autonomy, at the very least, means that no other human has more say in my decisions about my life than I do. By convention, autonomy requires an independent, uncoerced actor who has the cognitive capacity to make informed decisions. While I may have autonomy now, I can lose autonomy at a point in the future if I lose my cognitive capacity for making informed decisions. At that future point, it would be nice to be able to “time travel” back to an earlier point in my life when I had that autonomy and link that capacity, so to speak, into that future period and resume making autonomous decisions.

Absent time travel, Advance Directives are a present method whereby I have authority now (via my present capacity) to make informed decisions for some future time period in my life when I may not be capable of making those same decisions. It is an interesting concept really. I not only have authority over myself now but I have authority over myself in the future. If I have capacity in the future, I can overrule my past Advance Directives. Since time (or at least my experience of it) only moves forward [1], if I lose my capacity in the future, my last Advance Directive rules my day.

This got me wondering – What if time is bidirectional? The bioethical reason for wondering this is the mirror of the benefits with the Advance Directive. There are clearly earlier portions of my life in which I lacked capacity for making autonomous decisions (as did everyone reading this blog). That period begins at the moment of conception and extends in an indeterminate manner to a point when I suddenly have that capacity. In a universe where time is bidirectional, autonomy would permit (demand?) both Advance and “Recede” Directives. Having capacity for autonomy is the trump card in modern bioethical debates so it certainly seems in my best interest to extend my autonomous decision-making over as much of my life as I am able, ideally from conception to death.

Theoretically, time travel into the past is not impossible in our universe but it is loaded with problems too complicated to discuss in detail in a bioethics blog. But an intriguing thought about today’s blog topic is the possibility that one of you dear blog readers is actually a time traveler from our collective futures and can comment with some authority on the subject.

I am going to start working on my Recede Directives the moment you respond. Though if time travel in either direction is possible, I can wait and do it earlier.

[1] For some excellent though by no means light reading, I recommend “Time and Eternity” by William Lane Craig and “God & Time”, essays on the same subject, edited by Gregory Ganssle.

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