February 21, 2024

Are there limits to informed consent?

If you don’t have a strong stomach, you are allowed to skip what follows and proceed directly to the article links below.

Earlier this month the New York Post, a great source of bioethical conundrums, reported the strange case of 30-year-old North Carolina woman Jewel Shuping.

Ms Shuping is convinced that she was always meant to be blind. But by some terrible accident at birth, she had normal eyesight. “I really feel this is the way I was supposed to be born, that I should have been blind from birth,” Shuping explained. Doctors say that she has Body Integrity Identity Disorder.

Finally she found an obliging psychologist in 2006. After giving her some counselling, he gave her some eye-numbing drops and then washed her pupils with drain cleaner. “It hurt, let me tell you,” she says in a YouTube video. “My eyes were screaming and I had some drain cleaner going down my cheek burning my skin,” she said. “But all I could think was, ‘I am going blind, it is going to be okay.”

So here is the bioethical conundrum: was the psychologist right to destroy his patient’s eyesight if she freely requested it, was happy with the treatment, and was living in psychological torment because she could see?

And if he was wrong and unethical, why is participating in gender reassignment surgery or euthanasia right and ethical? 

Michael Cook
The strange case of a woman who blinded herself.
Body Integrity Identity Disorder
informed consent