The Null Device

The Atlantic Monthly has a fascinating piece on apotemnophilia, the neurological/psychological condition that causes one to want to have healthy limbs amputated.
In May of 1998 a seventy-nine-year-old man from New York traveled to Mexico and paid $10,000 for a black-market leg amputation; he died of gangrene in a motel. In October of 1999 a mentally competent man in Milwaukee severed his arm with a homemade guillotine, and then threatened to sever it again if surgeons reattached it. That same month a legal investigator for the California state bar, after being refused a hospital amputation, tied off her legs with tourniquets and began to pack them in ice, hoping that gangrene would set in, necessitating an amputation. She passed out and ultimately gave up. Now she says she will probably have to lie under a train, or shoot her legs off with a shotgun.
Some wannabes are also devotees. Others who identify themselves as wannabes are drawn to extreme body modification... Some wannabes, Robert Smith suggests, want amputation as a way to gain sympathy from others. And finally, there are "true" apotemnophiles, whose desire for amputation is less about sex than about identity. "My left foot was not part of me," says one amputee, who had wished for amputation since the age of eight.
I met Price through an Internet discussion listserv called "amputee-by-choice," one of the larger lists. At first I had simply prowled through the archives and listened to the ongoing conversation. I found many of the archived messages very creepy. Here were people exchanging photographs of hands with missing fingers; speculating about black-market amputations in Russia; debating the merits of industrial accidents, gunshot wounds, self-inflicted gangrene, chain-saw slips, dry ice, and cigar cutters as means of getting rid of their limbs and digits.
The idea of having one's legs amputated might never even enter the minds of some people until it is suggested to them. Yet once it is suggested, and not just suggested but paired with imagery that a person's past may have primed him or her to appreciate, that act becomes possible.

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