Elective Impairment Minus Elective Disability: The Social Model of Disability and Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Original Research

Open Access. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry (2019). Published online: 19 December 2019

Richard B. Gibson

Abstract: Individuals with body integrity identity disorder (BIID) seek to address a non-delusional incongruity between their body image and their physical embodiment, sometimes via the surgical amputation of healthy body parts. Opponents to the provision of therapeutic healthy-limb amputation in cases of BIID make appeals to the envisioned harms that such an intervention would cause, harms such as the creation of a lifelong physical disability where none existed before. However, this concept of harm is often based on a normative biomedical model of health and disability, a model which conflates amputation with impairment, and impairment with a disability. This article challenges the prima facie harms assumed to be inherent in limb amputation and argues in favour of a potential treatment option for those with BIID. To do this, it employs the social model of disability as a means to separate the concept of impairment and disability and thereby separate the acute and chronic harms of the practice of therapeutic healthy-limb amputation. It will then argue that provided sufficient measures are put in place to ensure that those with atypical bodily constructions are not disadvantaged, the chronic harms of elective amputation would cease to be.

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