Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cosmetic Amputation

In one of our textbooks for the Bioethics class I'm TA'ing for this quarter is an article called "Amputees by Choice". And it is about just what it sounds like - otherwise seemingly mentally competent, healthy, "normal" people who have an intense, lifelong desire to be an amputee and have some very specific part of their body amputated to meet their preconceived body image. This is perhaps one of the strangest things I've ever heard of - a little disturbing, too. The author compares it to gender identity disorder and speculates that both these sorts of maladies either couldn't exist or wouldn't be nearly so prevalent were it not for the nature of the culture we live in - our culture creates an 'ecological niche' in which the disorder can be conceived, grow, and thrive. Apparently, there's a whole internet subculture of people who are into amputation. Some are "wannabes" - people who want cosmetic amputation. Others are "devotees" - people who are sexually attracted to amputation and to amputees. Some wannabes are "pretenders" - they are not disabled but use wheelchairs, etc. in public in order to feel disabled.
Somehow I don't have the courage to google any of this stuff, for fear of what I might come up with!

Some choice quotes:

"In May 1998 a seventy-nine-year-old man from New York traveled to Mexico and paid $10,000 for a black-market leg amputation; he died of gangrene in a motel. In October 1999 a mentally competent man in Milwaukee severed his arm with a homemade guillotine, and then threatened to sever it again if surgeons reattached it. That same month a legal investigator for the California state bar, after being refused a hospital amputation, tied off her legs with tourniquets and began to pack them in ice, hoping that gangrene would set in, necessitating an amputation. She passed out and ultimately gave up. Now she says she will probably have to lie undera train, or shoot her legs off with a shotgun...."

"On the Internet there are enough people interested in becoming amputees to support a minor industry. One discussion listserv has over 3,200 subscribers."

" 'My left foot was not part of me,' says one amputee, who had wished for amputation since the age of eight. 'I didn't understand why, but I knew I didn't want my leg.' Another says, 'My body image has always been as a woman who has lost both her legs.' A woman in her early forties wrote to me, 'I will never feel truly whole with legs.' Her view of herself has always been as a double amputee, with stumps of five or six inches."

"Amputee wannabes more often see their limbs as normal, but as a kind of surplus. Their desires frequently come with chillingly precise specifications: for instance, an above-the-knee amputation of the right leg."

"Isolated and lonely, he spent some of his time hobbling around on crutches, pretending to be an amputee, fantasizing about photographs of war victims. He was convinced that his happiness depended on getting an amputation. He desparately wanted his body to match his self-image: 'Just as a transsexual is not happy with his own body but longs to have the body of another sex, in the same way I am not happy with my present body, but long for a peg-leg.' "

1 comment:

Mom said...

Just when you think you've heard every weird fettish, disorder there could possibly be, along comes another. I'm sure this isn't a problem in Somalia. Miss you and want to have time to sit and talk (in small words that I can understand). your blog is most times over my head. Love E's new pics, she is beautiful. Mom