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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Transhumanism: Amputating a Healthy Limb



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I first heard of Body Integrity Identity Disorder at a transhumanist convention. BIID, also known as “amputee wannabe,” is a terrible mental illness in which sufferers obsesses and truly anguish about becoming an amputee–which they perceive as their true identities. 

At the conference, the transhumanist speaker argued that sufferers should be able to have healthy limbs amputated. On one hand, I couldn’t believe my ears. On the other, I wasn’t surprised. These days, we often don’t treat mental illnesses, but instead, tend toward acceding to and normalizing them. The speaker also argued, that since we have long permitted sex change surgeries, why not amputations? Truth to be told, there is logic there.

It isn’t just transhumanists. I have reported previously of some bioethical journals publishing articles in favor of amputation as a treatment for BIID. And now, a rogue doctor in Asia is apparently doing just that. From the Matter story:

In Patrick’s house, I saw a decorative skeleton hanging off a chandelier and didn’t think much of it. “Look more closely,”  he urged. Only then did I notice that it, like Patrick, was missing part of a leg and part of one finger. Then there was a statue of Michelangelo’s David on the mantelpiece. It too was missing part of a leg. The family had acknowledged Patrick’s suffering and was celebrating his freedom from BIID. Patrick now seemed genuinely comfortable with his body.

You can see where this is going–normalizing of a terrible mental illness. And indeed, according to the story the afflicted would rather be amputated than cured medically:

A YEAR OR SO before Patrick’s operation, a psychologist asked him if he would take a pill to make his BIID go away, should such a treatment exist. It took a moment for him to reflect and answer: maybe when he had been a lot younger, but not anymore. “This has become the core of who and what I am,” he said. This is who I am. Everyone with BIID that I have interviewed or heard about uses some variation on those words to describe their condition. When they envision themselves whole and complete, that image does not include parts of their limbs. “It seems like my body stops mid-thigh of my right leg,” Furth told the makers of a 2000 BBC documentary, Complete Obsession. “The rest is not me.

One can see why transhumanists look to treating BIID with amputation because their holy grail is to use medical, biotech, cybertech, and every other kind of tech to remake their bodies in their own image. But should society go down that path too?

I fear the worst. Radical individualism is now the avatar with powerful forces urging that self identity become the be all and end all–no judgment allowed–perhaps even to the point that one day it will mean permission to chop off healthy limbs and other body parts. If we follow this path to its logical conclusion, it will mean using the medical system to surrender to serious mental illnesses.

Individualism of the kind to which I am referring is already expensive. San Francisco’s city health insurance plan pays for sex change surgeries and a bill has been introduced in CA that would literally define all gay people as infertile and mandate group health insurance to pay for “infertility” treatments. Meanwhile, some terminal cancer patients are being denied life-extending chemotherapy under rationing schemes in Oregon, the UK, and elsewhere.

If we don’t hold the line on BIID by rejecting amputation as a legitimate treatment, when the next terrible obsession arises that is beyond the new ephemeral line drawn in the sand, what will happen? I think we all know the answer.



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