The 58 year-old woman knows something is wrong with her body, has known since the age of 4. The Cambridge graduate believes both of her legs do not belong to her and dreams of being paralysed from the waist down. Her belief is so strong that she has searched for physicians who would be willing to severe her nerves so she can fulfill her dream of becoming her true disabled self.
There are others like her, able bodied people who feel as if they are living a lie. Psychiatrist Michael First has identified dozens of people who feel the same way. One, Michael Comer, says he has “rejected” his left leg since the age of 6. His feeling that his healthy leg should not be there is so intense that he eventually dropped a concrete block on his leg in the hope that he could damage it to the point where amputation was required. To his great disappointment doctors were able to save the leg.
While the number of healthy people who “identify” as disabled is not great, they have gotten attention to the point where there is a push to recognize the disorder as a legitimate medical condition. The term “Body Integrity Identity Disorder” has as a result entered the medical lexicon. Unsurprisingly, there is now debate in the medical community as to how to respond to these people. Should their “identity” be honored? Or should they be treated as mentally ill? How should doctors respond? If it is a valid medical condition, is it medically ethical to remove a perfectly healthy limb because a patient feels it doesn’t belong?
According to one author in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the answer is a resounding “yes.” In the abstract for his article on the issue Anahita Dua states, " a discourse on how the accepted notion of harm does not apply to apotemnophilia (BIID) is developed to justify the position that amputation is indeed medically the ethical choice”
This is the place we have reached in our society. A person’s feelings are now the most important factor in identity, and these feelings must be recognized by society, no matter how absurd, preposterous or harmful they may seem to others.
There is one question that seems to be persistently ignored. “What if someone’s feelings are wrong?”
I have always considered feelings unreliable. When my children were growing up I had conversations with them about the danger of following their feelings. I asked them, “Is it possible to feel something strongly and believe something deeply and be wrong?” In each of these conversations they both answered in the affirmative. I then asked them a follow up question. “When you feel something strongly and believe something deeply, how do you know if you are wrong or right?”
This is the heart of the matter. We have all experienced times when we were certain of something that later turned out to be wrong. Many of us have experienced adverse outcomes because we acted on mistaken beliefs. We all, if we had been able to listen, would have benefited from outside counsel pointing out the error in our thinking.
And yet here we are, living in a society where the problem is not that someone wants to cut off their leg, but that anyone else would question the desire. How did we get here? How did feelings become the ultimate determinant of morality?
It seems to me that it is the rejection of truth that is the root of our current problem. Turning away from the idea of moral constants, and of moral certainty, has led us to where we are.
There was a time in our society, and in western society at large, when there was a common understanding of right and wrong and a common agreement as to Who it was that defined right and wrong. While there was always debate on the nature of God, there was a near universal agreement that there was a God and that it was He who made the rules.
It was understood that there were good actions and bad actions, good people and bad people, and there was a way to measure and identify each. All of the realms of human existence and relationships could be assessed in the context a transcendent moral law.
These concepts and ideals are being rejected today. In their place a new morality has arisen, individual in nature and focus. Right and wrong are no longer determined by God or a universal code, but instead by each person for himself. Each man and each woman is in charge of their lives, their destiny and their morality. We each get to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.
With the idea that each person gets to decide for themselves comes another concept, the idea that no person gets to judge the decisions of anyone else. Asserting the right or ability to judge the actions of another carries with it an undesired consequence, the right of others to judge me, and no one wants this.
Deference and “tolerance” become the order of the day. Think you are a Furry beast? Or that your left leg should be removed? Who am I to question it you? Feel like you are a woman born into a man’s body and want your perfectly normal genitalia removed? I must support your belief without question or be damned as an intolerant bigot.
Evidence that we have reached the place where mindless, unquestioning support of the feelings of others is required can be found in the response of the medical community to issues such as transgenderism. Researchers are searching for a medical explanation to the condition, for a biological explanation, for evidence that people are “born this way.”
They forget that being born with something does not make something normal. The vast number of genetic diseases and illnesses speak to this truth. Normal is not defined genetically, but socially. As an extreme example, I doubt that discovering a “Murder gene” would suddenly make homicide acceptable!
So what do we do? How do we respond?
While it is possible that we have reached the point of no return, that society has gone so far over the feelings cliff that reason has been permanently abandoned, I do not believe that absolves me of my personal responsibility. My role remains unchanged. My job is to “speak the truth in love” and accept whatever consequences society decides to hand out.