Sunday, October 30, 2005

Benson - 'This Isn't My Body' - The Ethics of Amputating 'Healthy' Limbs

"In an article for the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Levy and Bayne define this condition, known as Body Identity Integrity Disorder (BIID) or body dysmorphia, as “a mismatch between their body and their body as they experience it – what we might call their phenomenal (or subjective) body.” They suggest that this mismatch may involve a discrepancy between a person's actual body and her body image. They compare unusual cases of people like Corinne with more familiar ones, such as a person who wants breast enlargement: she knows she has small breasts, but her idealised image of herself is of a person with large breasts. “She does not feel comfortable – at home – in her own body.”

Levy and Bayne are not the first to advocate going ahead with requests for amputations in such circumstances. In January 2000, Robert Smith, a surgeon at Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary in Scotland, amputated the healthy legs of two patients at their request, and was planning to do a third amputation when the trust in charge of the Infirmary stopped him. In the Horizon documentary on the subject, “Complete Obsession,” Smith said this about his decision to amputate:

“Certainly when I was first contacted by the patients who wished an amputation of a perfectly healthy limb it struck me as being absolutely utterly weird. I was worried and concerned about whether in fact we should even consider this procedure. ... It's quite a difficult change of view on my point really, to remove a healthy limb is an anathema to a surgeon. ... The major concern with these individuals is that if they do not achieve their amputation by medical means they will try and achieve it by self-injury. We do have a number of individuals who have deliberately injured themselves with train tracks, shot guns and have achieved amputation this way.” ...

Nevertheless it is hard not to conclude that a weekend spent in a wheelchair pretending to be a legless amputee is an inadequate test for being an actual and irreversible legless amputee. The worries Carl Elliott mentions seem cogent. He put it this way: “Re looping effects: I warned about this in 2001, and while it is hard to come up with reliable data, the numbers of amputee wannabes do seem to be rising. The listservs are growing – there are more of them, and more people on them.”" - The Philosopher's Magazine.

Benson's article is a consideration of the problem of amputating healthy limbs, a topic that has been discussed here previously.

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