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How Xenomelia Is Leading Healthy Individuals To Amputate Their Limbs

Updated October 13, 2018 260.3k views12 items

There exists a small and secretive population of people who voluntarily amputate limbs - either through a doctor or on their own. These individuals suffer from a disorder known as xenomelia, a condition not fully understood by doctors or scientists.

Alternatively known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), xenomelia creates a deep need to remove one's limb to feel like a complete person. Though studied since 1977, more sufferers anonymously share their experiences these days, bringing increased awareness to the condition as a result.

  • Xenomelia Can Lead To Self-Removal Or Severe Damage Of The Chosen Limb

    Several studies note that patients attempted amputations through various methods - and without medical supervision. The 2014 study of 21 German BIID patients reported self-inflicted removal of limbs, with the methods used including "dry ice, a pellet-gun, self-induced infections, medicines, or a railway-coach to roll about the leg."

    In an interview with Medium in 2013, "David" admitted he attempted to remove his leg by stopping blood flow to the area and said he later planned to destroy it with dry ice. "Patrick," meanwhile, conducted a test amputation of the first joint of his left index finger, cutting off its blood supply and immersing it in a makeshift numbing agent before hacking off the tip of the digit.

  • The Majority Of Sufferers Want To Remove A Leg

    Dr. Michael First, author of a 2005 study of 52 BIID sufferers, told the New York Times that patients most commonly target the leg. First explained the subjects even knew the exact number of inches above or below the knee that required amputation.

    The most frequent disconnect between mind and body came from the left side, whether an arm or leg.  

  • Many Sufferers Choose To Travel Abroad For Amputations

    Over the course of several years, Dr. Furth assisted other BIID patients in finding doctors abroad willing to perform amputations. A 2014 German study of 21 BIID patients discovered that 10 of them left the country for their appendage-removal procedure.

    Of the remaining patients, eight took matters into their own hands, while one suffered an accident which removed the offending limb.

  • Photo: Ertlconstruction / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Legal Amputations By One Doctor Led To An Investigation

    In 2000, Dr. Robert Smith of Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary in Scotland went before an ethics committee for two healthy appendage amputations he performed in 1999. After receiving permission from the medical director and chief executive of the hospital, Smith performed an amputation in April of 1999.

    New hospital management denied a second patient's request, but Smith still performed the surgery. It prompted an ethics investigation, which led to a formal policy prohibiting such procedures.