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Volume 26 • Number 1

January 2012




by Peter Brian Barry

In 1999, Scottish surgeon Robert Smith was prevented from amputating a healthy leg of a patient—what would have been his third such amputation—after an ethics committee report was issued and the chief executive of the hospital's Trust announced a prohibition on such surgery. The announcement of the prohibition surprised many; some were surprised to learn that medical professionals were in the business of amputating healthy limbs at all, certain that there was no need to entertain the ethical permissibility of deliberately disabling patients. But Smith's defenders undoubtedly reject this characterization of his practice. While Smith did not amputate in the sort of circumstances in which amputations are normally performed, the removal of his patients' limbs was intended to relieve their significant suffering and restore their health. Further, the patients who requested their amputation would presumably deny that they were being disabled, maintaining instead that amputation relieved their disability. Much depends, then, on how the issue of "voluntary amputation" is framed.

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Public Affairs Quarterly is published by the University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications.

ISSN: 2152-0542