March 3, 2024

Dangerous theory or ‘armless joke?

Perhaps this is merely an academic curio without real world consequences — but here goes. Two Australian philosophers have argued in an international journal that amputating the healthy limbs of people suffering from body integrity identity disorder is justifiable. BIID is a rare psychological disorder which has become better known in recent years after a 2003 documentary, “Whole”, about people who desperately wanted their limbs, or some of them, lopped off. A Scottish surgeon amputated at least two limbs from sufferers before he was told to stop.

Tim Bayne, of Macquarie University, and Neil Levy, of the University of Melbourne, rely mostly on their understanding of informed consent. They say that there are no compelling arguments against this quirky desire. “BIID sufferers meet reasonable standards for rationality and autonomy: so long as no effective treatment for their disorder is available, surgeons ought to be allowed to accede to their requests,” they argue. They also assume that mind and body are not integrally united: “in an important sense, a limb that is not experienced as one’s own is not in fact one’s own.”