They Just Want to Live Like An Amputee – BIID: The Disorder of Desiring to Remove Healthy Limbs

photo shows amputee with prosthetic leg standing next to bicycle - legs from knee to foot only showing in image.

By Janice Barlow


As I began to research this very odd condition, it became so strange to fathom that any sane person would want to remove an arm or a leg that is fully functional. After all, there are literally hundreds of thousands of amputees in our nation who would give anything to have their missing limb or limbs back again. Why would anyone want to chop one off? It’s sacrilegious.

And yet, there is a bastion of information and Internet groups, among the weird disorders spreading throughout our country, about removing an arm or a leg and living the rest of a life without it. Why? And what medical doctor who has taken an oath, “to do no harm” would be willing to take the saw to the bone and remove the limb?

This baffling disorder, known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder, (BIID) is now recognized as an official disorder. Why are we only hearing about this now?

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I had never heard of the many strange and creepy conditions now being embraced by society. Is it that very acceptance that causes emotionally disturbed attention seekers to want to do harmful things to their bodies such as remove limbs?

It seems to be a drastic and permanently damaging form of “cutting”. Some have even tried to do it to themselves. One guy tried to cut off his own leg, but failed because of the pain.

Sadly, this disorder seems to be a very real issue for some

They are daily plagued with the almost insurmountable need to get rid of a limb. One such person, named “John” in an article by Fox News, was deemed to be sane by several psychiatrists. Now a senior citizen, and wanting every day since he was a teenager to have his leg amputated, John says,

I just want to get on with it,” “John” said. “But I want to do it safely. And my wife — who I won’t say accepts it, but is willing to go along with me, also insists — and I think she’s right, that this be done safely.”

He feels that this operation would allow him to finally get on with his life.

Dr. Michael First named the condition, Body Integrity Identity Disorder, and has been following cases since 2004 for a pattern.

 …his research with 53 patients who have the disorder has revealed some trends: It’s usually the left leg that people want removed, it often presents in early childhood, and sufferers are most likely to be white and male. And it is almost always kept secret, even from close relatives, because most people simply can’t empathize with the desire to be an amputee. A shocked response to a childhood confession often leads one to go silent for the rest of their lives.  

First is currently working on two studies. In one, he’s examining other disabilities to try and define the boundaries of BIID. He wants to find out if the disorder is just about amputation or something wider.

Some psychiatrists feel that BIID does exhibit an outward expression of a deep mental disturbance, but since those with this condition are smart and functioning, and often married and with families, it is difficult to discern the root cause. They desire to be amputees, but fully functioning ones. They do not, to a fault, want to be disabled. They seem to want to have the experience of living life as an amputee.

Robert Smith, a physician in Scotland, felt that it was beneficial to remove the limbs of those who were suffering mental anguish by the desire to have them removed. He succeeded in two leg amputations before the operating hospital put a stop to it. He felt it was the only solution to keep the patients from causing themselves more permanent harm. Explained by British psychiatrist Russell Reid in a BBC documentary on the subject, called Complete Obsession,:

Psychotherapy “doesn’t make a scrap of difference in these people. You can talk till the cows come home; it doesn’t make any difference. They’re still going to want their amputation, and I know that for a fact.” Both Smith and Reid pointed out that these people may do themselves unintended harm or even kill themselves trying to amputate their own limbs. As the retired psychiatrist Richard Fox observed in the BBC program, “Let’s face it, this is a potentially fatal condition.”

Many never reach the point of actual amputation

Like transvestites, they often will fantasize about actually being who they think they want to be. Some simply don’t have the means or can find a doctor to carry out the amputation. Others are content with just pretending they are missing a limb.

Most wannabes also pretend to be an amputee prior to having the limb removed, by tying the limb back, or using a wheelchair or crutches to move around the house. This behaviour could be analogous to cross-dressing in transgender individuals before they undergo sex reassignment surgery. But just as some transgender people are content cross-dressing regularly without going through hormone treatment and surgery, so too are some wannabe amputees are content pretending.

Many injured amputees or those with birth defects who had no choice, are angry that anyone would make such a drastic and what they consider, thoughtless decision. No doubt this issue is not something that will go away. And the more attention it is given, the more people will be coming forward and demanding limb removal.

For me, the key question is this: How will a person who has had a limb removed because of BIID respond when asked how he lost his limb? Will he just lie or will he say that he had it removed on purpose?

Will there be a new cause to take up? Many will be “up in arms”.

(The interview of a person obsessed with leg removal can be found by clicking on the link underlining Dr. Michael First’s name).

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