Chloe Jennings-White is a healthy, able-bodied. 58 year-old research scientist who lives part of her life in wheelchair. She lives this way not by necessity, but by choice. Chloe suffers from what is known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder. She has perfectly healthy legs and even has been known to ski, but she identifies and sees herself as a person with a disability. She wants desperately to be paralyzed. So much so, that she is actively seeking out a doctor willing to perform surgery to cut her sciatic and femoral nerves.
More on Chloe’s story can be found here.
Body Integrity Identity Disorder or BIID is rare but recognized psychiatric condition. The condition, as of this post, has not been extensively studied but the leading view is that there is a flaw in the mapping part of the brain that recognizes where parts of your body begin and end. This flaw in messaging in the brain causes the person to not recognize certain limbs or body parts as belonging to them. This can lead to great psychological stress and the desire to have what seems like foreign body parts removed. The stress can be so acute that amputation of body parts is the desired solution. Another less popular hypothesis is that the person suffering from BIID saw a person with a particular disability when they were very young or impressionable and then internalized that disabled person as being the ideal person and then wanting to become that ideal.
In Chloe’s case one or both of these possibilities seem plausible. Below is an excerpt from the interview with Cloe in the Daily Mail. (Yes, I realize The Daily Mail is the bottom of the barrel in journalism.)
Chloe first realised she was different at the age of four, after visiting her Aunt Olive, who was using leg braces after a bike accident.
‘I wanted them too,’ she said. ‘I wondered why I wasn’t born needing them and felt something was wrong with me because I didn’t have them.’
My initial reaction to this story, after I read it, was that it would go against medical ethics to perform any surgery that would render a person disabled because you are taking a healthy person and causing them harm. But after some research into the topic and some consideration, I’m not so sure if this is the case. If the person suffering from BIID is experiencing great stress because their body is not inline with how they perceive themselves and it is affecting their quality of life in an extreme and negative way then why not let them become who they want to be? If causing the physical disability will actually relieve the psychological stress then in fact, pain may be reduced. It’s an interesting thing to consider especially when we think in terms of what makes us whole or accepted as healthy in today’s society. If we strive to be a society that acknowledges mental illness then we are going to have to learn to actually recognize and attempt to lessen the psychological anguish that comes with it.
What do you think? Is there anything wrong with choosing to be paralyzed? Should procedures such as amputation of healthy limbs be accepted by mainstream society as being a reasonable solution to psychological pain?
More on BIID can be found here.
Photos by me.