|Elective Amputation and the Prochoice Redux|
Back in August, I asked, "Where are the Prochoice on Elective Amputation?" This isn't a facetious question. There are people in the world who want healthy limbs amputated, some of whom will go to great lengths to achieve this goal, sometimes dying in the attempt. If the prochoice movement is indeed about doing whatever one wants with one's body, then sooner or later they're going to have to deal with the growing problem of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) -- what used to be called apotemnophilia -- the desire to amputate a healthy limb.
With the spread of the Internet, "wannabes" (people who "wanna be" amputees) have been finding each other and building an underground network, much as women who wanted abortions once sought out each other and built an underground network before legalization.
The response to the issue of wannabes was often the retort that only somebody completely out of his or her mind would want a healthy limb amputated. Comments in the Forum included:
"No no and no a person wanting to remove an arm, leg, finger is of course in need of counseling, deep counseling."
"Ask ANY hospital or any doctor what they would do if a man can in to have a perfectly good arm amputated---he would soon be talking to a shrink and most likely kept in custody."
"I don't believe there are any that agree with your stupidity unless they are the whackos that want their limbs removed--whackos who REALLY need protection and mental help."
"The desire to chop off of a limb shows mental troubles, and if you are for it, you are in need of deep shrink help."
But "wannabes" don't see their desire as "crazy" any more than a prochoicer sees the desire to obtain an abortion as "crazy."
There are similarities that the prochoice don't want to see. In both situations, we have healthy people:
Granted, there are differences. Pregnancy is self-limiting; having four limbs is permanent. The woman demanding an abortion has only wanted the destruction of her fetus for at most a period of months; the person demanding an elective amputation has wanted to have the limb removed for years, if not decades. Most women who can't readily arrange an abortion will quickly adapt to pregnancy and birth1; people with BIID continue to suffer for decades when denied amputation. Abortion involves killing another human being; elective amputation only effects the patient. But the parallels are too strong to ignore.
Reading stories about BIID, and about the doctors who do these elective amputations, is remarkably similar in many ways to reading about abortion. Elective amputations, like illegal abortions, tend to be done by doctors who have questionable practices or who have lost their license. An LA Weekly story about John Ronald Brown, who was charged with murder after an elective amputation patient died, sounds like a story about a criminal abortionist. The biggest difference is that Brown did not, according to reports, do abortions. His strange practice was limited to altering people's bodies at their request.
The response of mainstream medicine to both elective abortion and elective abortion has been similar. At the present, mainstream medicine rejects elective amputations, just as it rejected (and to some degree, continues to reject) elective abortions. A reputable physician will try to avoid amputation, and isn't going to simply lop off a limb because the patient requests it. Likewise, conscientious physicians never simply capitulated to patients' requests for elective abortions. Pre-legalization literature shows that patients could be given reassurance and a chance to resolve their real problems, and would come to welcome the births of their children.1 Now that abortion is considered a "right," a patient who thinks abortion will solve her problems can easily find somebody willing to take her money and destroy the fetus. Some researchers, like Carl Elliott, wonder if apotemnophilia will become more common as more people are introduced to the concept. As wannabes "come out," will confused people latch onto the idea of amputating a limb to achieve a new identity? And will the same hacks who now do assembly-line abortions and fly-by-night cosmetic surgery start cashing in on the trend?
As people with BIID continue to band together, and start to find a voice, the prochoice movement will have to take a stand. Is the credo, "It's my body," universal? Does the right to control one's body entitle one not only to abortion on request, but also to amputation on request? Or does the "It's my body" credo apply only to those with the goal of destroying fetuses, not limbs?
Information about apotemnophilia and wannabes gathered from the links provided in the sidebar*For examples of this in the realm of abortion, see Chalker and Downer, A Woman's Book of Choices
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