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Unnecessary Amputations - what are the social, ethical and legal implications?

by YPU Admin on November 29, 2019, Comments. Tags: bioethics, Humanities, jurisprudence, Law, PhD, and philosophy of law


My name’s Richard Gibson and I am a third year PhD candidate in Bioethics & Medical Jurisprudence in The University of Manchester Law School. My research examines the social, ethical and legal implications of allowing people to have their limbs amputated when there is nothing medically wrong with them. In short, if you wanted to make yourself impaired or disabled, what arguments exists to support or refute such a decision. In addition to my research I also work as a teaching assistant on the Jurisprudence (more commonly known as philosophy of law) course.

In Depth

In all honesty, I am not sure how I ended up being based in a school of law, especially given that my background isn’t in law but philosophy. My A-levels were in Psychology, Biology, ICT and Photography but after finishing sixth-form I didn’t go straight to university. I took several years out working in various jobs before finally accepting an offer to study Philosophy at the University of the West of England; a subject that I picked slightly at random. It was here that I became interested in ethics and the ways in which we come to understand what makes decisions right and wrong, good and bad. When I graduated, I took another couple of years out from education to work and travel before being awarded a place on the newly formed master’s programme in Bioethics & Society at King’s College London. It was here that my interest in ethics was combined with the biological sciences, and specifically, the concept of human (dis)enhancement. Again, after graduating from here, I took a couple of years out to work in a variety of roles, to travel more and enjoy life, before finally making my way to Manchester and the PhD project on which I currently work.

The project I work on looks to examine what reasons we have to refuse the request of someone wanting to make themselves impaired or disabled, and why we have such reasons in the first place. This is important because the question isn’t a hypothetical one; there are people who wish to transition from a state of ‘health’ to one of disability and impairment and, currently, there exists little research into this topic and practically no guidance on how we should respond to such desires. This is what my work tries to change. I’m attempting to provide clear moral arguments on why such requests should, or should not, be respected. In addition to this ethical component, my research also examines the legality of such requests. For example, if a surgeon amputated a person’s leg because they wanted it gone, would that surgeon be subject to criminal prosecution, and if not, why?

My work is highly interdisciplinary and draws upon the work and theories of scholars and researchers from a vast range of subjects including philosophy, law, disability studies, medicine, biotechnology, robotics, psychology, and sociology.

Going Further

For a good introduction to the varied topics that philosophy examines, see here.

To read more about the field of bioethics, in its various forms, check out this blog by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an internationally recognised leader in the field.

For a guide to the people who wish to transition into disability and impairment, see this article

You can read about my research centre here.

And, of course, you can follow my work on twitter at @RichardBGibson!