Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
on 24 November 2012
This is certainly a new one on me: Body Integrity Identity Disorder, or BIID, a psychological condition in which the sufferer feels compelled to remove one or more healthy limbs from his body. It sounds crazy, but there are people out there who feel that a part of their body is completely alien to them and, as such, desperately long for it to be removed. There's no question about their sincerity, as some go so far as to attempt self-amputation. Anil Ananthaswamy does a wonderful job of describing this condition with both scientific objectivity and sincere compassion for those with this strange condition. It should be noted that this is not a book; it's a Kindle single - and the first publication of "serious, in-depth, long-form online journalism" from the publisher Matter. I'm not sure how well this approach to publishing will succeed in the future, but Do No Harm certainly gets things off to a rousing start.
While BIID is not a medically recognized disorder - not yet anyway - the author makes a compelling case for its consideration. The fact that the right superior parietal lobe is thinner than normal in those with BIID suggests something medical rather than psychological is going on here - even though it's unclear if this is a cause or effect of the condition. As Ananthaswamy describes it, BIID is sort of the flip side of phantom limb sensations - in this case, something has caused the brain's internal map of the body to exclude a part that really is there.
The author doesn't delve too deeply into the ethics of doctors removing healthy limbs for those with BIID, but he does discuss an underground network linking patients with an Asian doctor willing to perform such surgeries - under false pretenses, of course. The most interesting thing to me, though, is the fact that those who do have the amputation - usually a leg - have no regrets after the fact. They happily don crutches, finally feeling as if their bodies are whole.
Exceedingly well-written, Do No Harm: The People Who Amputate Their Perfectly Healthy Limbs, and the Doctors Who Help Them proves just as fascinating as the title suggests.