032. Body/modification

A discussion on distorted selves and distorting selves.

Questions to ponder

  1. Body modification includes the deliberate altering of one’s anatomy and/or physical appearance and can include explicit ornamentation (piercings, tattoos, transdermal implants), surgical augmentation (breast implants, circumcision), and physical alteration (foot binding, scarification, branding). Should we endeavor to prevent any of these methods of body modification from being done (commonly)? Why?
  2. One of the most common forms of body modification practiced at scale is the circumcision of babies/children, yet often the alteration of genitals later in life (piercing, removal, “enhancement”, etc.) is met with opprobrium from (polite) society. What accounts for this difference?
  3. Featherstone (1999) notes that “[n]ormally to be a self is to be distinguished from [] other[s]” but that the “body form of conjoin[ed] twins challenges both the distinction between mind and body and body and body.” Ought the medical establishment treat as its mandate the separation of conjoined twins?
  4. In the early 1980s, it was found that administering a constant level of GnRH “desensitizes” an individual’s pituitary, leading to a decrease in secretion of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. A child can be prevented from going from the gonadarche stage to the somatic growth spurt during puberty, in essence having their puberty “suppressed” and thereby not becoming a gender with which they do not (self-)identify. What should a parent do if their child (has gender dysphoria and) wishes to have their puberty suppressed?
  5. Self-cutting, anorexia, and many other “pathological” forms of body modification seem to manifest during our teenage years. Why do you think that is?
  6. Bridy (2004) relays stories of individuals with “apotemnophilia” – a condition characterized by an intense, long-standing desire for amputation of a (specific) limb. Should an individual be allowed to remove a body part for non-medical reasons? Can we lop off a nose, pluck out an eye, hack off a limb for no clear medical benefit?
  7. Schramme (2007) contends that “the case of extreme body modification is an ultimate test-case for liberal bioethics. It directly confronts two characteristics of a liberal attitude, namely to accept competent decisions even where they seem to be clearly unwise (antipaternalism) and not to impose particular conceptions of the good on other people (neutrality).” How ought the balance between (anti)paternalism and neutrality be struck in the case of body modification?
  8. Schramme presents five possible arguments against voluntary body mutilation (modification): “i) Self-mutilation is never really voluntary, but is caused by pathological beliefs and desires, or is a side-effect of mental disorder; ii) it violates moral duties to oneself; iii) it violates moral duties to others or harms other people; iv) it contravenes nature’s purposes; v) it is unreasonable or irrational.” Do you subscribe to any of these arguments against body modification?
  9. Is our body distinct from our “self”?

Essays to consider

  1. Body Modification: An Introduction
  2. Confounding Extremeties: Surgery at the Medico-ethical Limits of Self-Modification
  3. Should we prevent non-therapeutic mutilation and extreme body modification?
  4. Nonmainstream Body Modification: Genital Piercing, Branding, Burning, and Cutting

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