Magazine article Newsweek

They'd Give Their Right Leg

Magazine article Newsweek

They'd Give Their Right Leg

Article excerpt

Byline: Jesse Ellison

When Josh amputated his own hand with a power tool a few years ago, he says he was fully prepared. He had tried before, once by crushing it beneath a truck (the jack didn't collapse right), another time by almost hacking it off with a table saw (he lost his nerve). Sometimes he would drive around for miles with his hand dangling out the window, hoping to get sideswiped. But this time he was determined. He had practiced on animal legs bought from a butcher. He kept a supply of bandages nearby to stop the bleeding, and a cell phone in case he got dizzy. Today Josh--who insists on using a pseudonym because his family thinks he lost his hand in an accident--says he feels wonderful, that his self-amputation ended a "torment" that had plagued him since middle school. "It is a tremendous relief," he tells NEWSWEEK. "I feel like my body is right."

On the scale of bizarre ailments, Josh's case surely ranks near the top. But his condition has a name: scientists call it body-integrity identity disorder, or BIID, a rare diagnosis characterized by a relentless desire to amputate healthy limbs. In the past decade, small BIID communities have coalesced on the Web, where they lobby for surgery as a safe and legal option. "You almost have to see it to believe it," says Dr. Michael First, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. "These people say, 'Every minute of my life I feel like something is wrong.' But it doesn't impair their ability to relate to other people. …

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