Like a part of me is missing

Matter magazine has an amazing article about the world of underground surgery for healthy people who feel that their limb is not part of their body and needs to be removed.

The condition is diagnosed as body integrity identity disorder or BIID but it has a whole range of interests and behaviours associated with it and people with the desire often do not feel it is a disorder in itself.

Needless to say, surgeons have not been lining up to amputate completely healthy limbs but there are clinics around the world that do the operations illegally.

The Matter article follows someone as they obtain one of these procedures and discusses the science of why someone might feel so uncomfortable about having a working limb they were born with.

But there is a particularly eye-opening bit where it mentions something fascinating about the first scientific article that discussed the condition, published in 1977.

One of the co-authors of the 1977 paper was Gregg Furth, who eventually became a practising psychologist in New York. Furth himself suffered from the condition and, over time, became a major figure in the BIID underground. He wanted to help people deal with their problem, but medical treatment was always controversial — often for good reason. In 1998, Furth introduced a friend to an unlicensed surgeon who agreed to amputate the friend’s leg in a Tijuana clinic. The patient died of gangrene and the surgeon was sent to prison. A Scottish surgeon named Robert Smith, who practised at the Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary, briefly held out legal hope for BIID sufferers by openly performing voluntary amputations, but a media frenzy in 2000 led British authorities to forbid such procedures. The Smith affair fuelled a series of articles about the condition — some suggesting that merely identifying and defining such a condition could cause it to spread, like a virus.

Undeterred, Furth found a surgeon in Asia who was willing to perform amputations for about $6,000. But instead of getting the surgery himself, he began acting as a go-between, putting sufferers in touch with the surgeon.


Link to Matter article on the desire to be an amputee.

2 thoughts on “Like a part of me is missing”

  1. Anyone familiar with Ramachandran’s work with Phantom Limb, has to suspect this condition is a neurological disorder. Who knows, it might respond to treatment much like Phantom Limb does, by tricking the brain using a hardware store mirror.

  2. Oliver Sacks wrote “A Leg to Stand On” which relates his experience of losing the knowledge that he had a leg, after it was denervated in a climbing accident. The nerve was essentially detached from his leg and therefore failed to inform the brain that it was there. The brain responded to this lack of input by disowning the leg.

    Limb surgery is not needed; brain surgery would be more on target (or at least rewriting the limb).

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