Bizarre Disorder Makes People Want to Sever Their Own Limbs

By Andrew Moseman | August 25, 2008 12:49 pm

amputeeWe’ve heard a lot about “cutters” and other people who feel compulsions to hurt themselves. But there’s an extra, extreme level above that: Body Integrity Identity Disorder.

BIID‘s somewhat cryptic name belies a strange affliction—its sufferers feel that their normal bodies are wrong, and that they were born to be paraplegic or handicapped. The compulsion is so strong that some with the disorder try—and succeed—at amputating their own limbs. Newsweek mentions one who, after many failed attempts to lose his left hand, cut it off with a power tool and then lied to his family that he lost it in an accident. Another man froze off his own leg.

Many doctors don’t even know how to classify such a strange phenomenon. Those lobbying for its inclusion as a mental disorder compare it to Gender Identity Disorder, in which people get sex changes because they feel out of place in their natural body. But performing a sex change operation is one thing, and amputating a healthy limb is quite another.

Indeed, how to treat BIID patients is a medical and ethical quandary. A Scottish doctor operated on two sufferers who wanted to lose their limbs, but when news of his actions broke, the hospital put a stop to it. His argument for amputating, oddly enough, was to cite his obligation under the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm—if he hadn’t amputated, the BIID sufferers would have been driven so crazy by their compulsion to lose a limb that they would’ve done it themselves or paid somebody else for some back alley operation.

Going through with the surgery is the only treatment that’s worked so far, but it seems unlikely that willing amputations will soon become common practice.

Image: iStockphoto

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