Binding Future Selves
56 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2014
Date Written: October 15, 2014
Courts traditionally treat a person entering an agreement as the same person at the time of enforcement notwithstanding the passage of time or an intervening change of mind. For certain agreements between intimates, however, courts have adopted the novel view that the enforcement of a person's earlier commitment would improperly constrain that person's will rather than serve as an expression of it. These cases rest on the assumption that an intervening change has created meaningful — and legally significant — differences between the later self (at the time of enforcement) and the earlier self (at the time of commitment), and that the later self deserves protection from the earlier self's choices.
This "different selves" rationale has arisen primarily in the context of agreements pertaining to matters like embryo disposition, surrogacy, and parentage. Courts and commentators appear to believe that the centrality of these types of choices to personhood justifies exceptions to general contract principles. But even assuming choices of this sort differ from choices embodied in "normal" contracts, the different selves rationale does not provide a principled basis for resolving a dispute between the selves; it does not explain why a choice central to personhood made at an earlier time is less central to that person than a choice made at a later time.
This Article contributes to the existing literature on several fronts. It reveals the increasing adoption by courts of the different selves rationale, which, until recently, was thought to be merely theoretical. It also exposes the ungrounded assumptions on which the rationale rests: that it applies only to a certain set of choices, that it can identify the proper choices to protect, and that it can actually protect those choices. Finally, this Article uses the different selves rationale as an occasion to examine the role of personal identity in contract law. Theories of personal identity emphasize the importance of self-continuity and future-regarding action, both of which are disserved by an approach that prizes a person's preference at the time of dispute rather than her earlier commitment.
Keywords: contracts, family law, assisted reproductive technologies, ART, intimate agreements, personal identity, narrative identity
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By Irit Samet