Coastal Post Online

September 2001

Strange Death By Amputation Fetish

By Jim Scanlon

A small article in the San Diego Union Tribune caught my eye. The local Appeals Court had upheld the murder conviction of a former medical doctor for having removed the healthy leg of an 79 year old New Yorker, to satisfy the man's lifelong desire to have his leg amputated. The operation took place in a Tijuana hotel room and two days later the man died a painful death from infection in another broken down motel room across the border. The man had paid his doctor $10,000.

I could not understand why the doctor had been charged and convicted of murder and not manslaughter or malpractice. It had been reported that the doctor's license to practice medicine had been revoked in 1977 for negligence. Nevertheless, it could only have been extraordinary or repeated negligence, I reasoned, since cutting off the wrong leg or operating on the wrong vertebra or wrong side of the brain were not uncommon and in most cases such actions result in administrative or civil actions. Many times the doctors just move to a different state.

I told a friend about the case, a neurosurgeon, who informally moderates an off color, sometimes tasteless Internet joke list. I was surprised and felt hurt and awkward when this hip, sophisticated, worldly doctor was genuinely upset by the little bit of the story that I knew at that time.

Men and women pay billions of dollars yearly to medical professionals, of one kind or another, to fulfill their personal desires to alter, remove or transform healthy facial or body tissue. Many, if not most, of the procedure's involved are painful, and there are often complications that result in disfigurement, illness and death, for one reason or another. Present day aesthetic surgery evolved from the medical art of reconstructing the bodies and faces of hundreds of thousands of young men that were torn and mangled during World Wars I and II.

Who in our society is truly satisfied with his or her body? Almost everyone wants to "lose a little weight" -that's more, or less normal. But in recent times, many men have openly confided powerful feelings of discomfort that they are really women trapped in bodies with male genitalia. For them, so called sexual reassignment surgery is now permissible -if they can afford it -and has been accepted to the extent that the City and County of San Francisco will cover the cost for employees who wish to undergo this difficult physical and social transition. It is now legal for a qualified surgeon to cut off perfectly healthy testes and remove most of a penis in constructing an orifice that resembles a vagina. With makeup and hormone therapy, transformation, often stunning, has been reported as emotionally and physically pleasing -but, as often happens, there are problems.

One has to sympathize with such men who are often reviled and abused in the most violent insulting ways for being what they are and for rejecting their manhood. Gay men can reject male social roles without removing their sex organs, but transsexuals often go to dangerous extremes of unsafe surgery from incompetent doctors like Dr. John Brown, to remove the male organs, the symbols of their torment and entrapment. One can sympathize with sexual confusion which has a long history in Christian culture -but cutting off a leg? To feel free and whole with the removal of a leg or an arm? This is difficult to understand. Suicide, death, eternal sleep are more understandable.

Reconstructive surgery is a medical art, with science involved, which has definite limits. The men who now appear to be women, are women in the social sense and in the emotional sense -but not strictly speaking the biological. They are not able to produce eggs for fertilization and the organs that produced sperm are now gone. They are infertile both ways -which does not mean that they are incapable of a fulfilling sex life or parenthood.

Body piercing, tattooing and scarification are ancient customs that have recently, like sexual reassignment surgery, become more socially acceptable in western society. Evolving from the customs of lower class men on the fringes of acceptable society, and so-called primitive peoples, these practices have almost reached mainstream status. One can now see respectable women revealing diminutive tattoos on an ankle or peeking out from under a swim suit, and is not uncommon for elegantly dressed women to display a tattooed wreath around a biceps. Tattooing involves repeatedly piercing the skin with a needle to permanently dye the surface in patterns or images which may, or may not, have symbolic significance, and therefore become a type of communication to others, the meaning of which can only be guessed.

It is now not uncommon to see every part of the male and female human anatomy, from head to foot, tattooed and/or pierced and adorned with gold studs, plugs, safety pins, nose rings, nipple rings, diamonds. Metal detectors at airports are sometimes a problem and beep for those whose clothing covers metal labia rings or cock rings.

There definitely appears to be a trend in piercing body parts which was once known as self mutilation, and there is no telling where this trend will go or when it will end? Japanese yakuza display courage and feudal type loyalty to their gangster leaders by cutting off the first joint of a finger. (If they will do this to themselves, what might they do to you?) Just recently, on August 14, 2001, the New York Times reported a group of a dozen or so South Koreans protesting the refusal of Japanese leaders to acknowledge guilt for crimes during World War II. Each man hacked off the tip of a finger while shouting "Apologize, Apologize, Apologize". Gruesome yes, but certainly a less extreme form of protest than dousing oneself with gasoline and striking a match! One wonders if such behavior is against the law in South Korea.

Healthy kidneys and other internal body parts can now be removed from living people for humane medical reasons: i.e. transplantation. After all, most of us have two. However, it sometimes appears that subtle -or not so subtle -pressure is placed upon the donor, usually a friend or relative. Even parts of healthy livers are being removed for humane reasons. Less controversially, blood and blood plasma have been, and continue to be, removed from healthy (and sometimes not so healthy) people, sometimes for humane reasons, often for a money. The processing of human blood and products derived from blood, is a multi-billion dollar industry.

In hospitals throughout the United States, millions of day old infant boys are routinely removed from the warmth and protection of their mother's arms, their arms and legs strapped to a plastic board where the heads of their tiny penises are clamped, so that the most sensitive skin on their body can be peeled and cut off. This is done in the name of -something or other -the reasons change, but the cutting continues. The tiny snippets of skin are valued biological products which are collected and processed by the medical pharmaceutical industry into health care products some of which are used in plastic surgery.

Children born with so called "ambiguous genitalia." that is, what appear to be both male and female genitalia are often surgically altered to the sexual preference of the surgeon, usually a urologist, in consultation with the parents. These children were once called hermaphrodites. Such irrevocable decisions made by others are often a source of distress and resentment in later life for those "assigned" to one sex or the other.

There are documented instances of boys whose penises were cut off or destroyed in botched circumcisions who then had their testes surgically removed and then brought up as if they were girls.

Jewish religious officials usually perform ritual male circumcision when the baby boy is 8 days old, in his home, with his family in attendance. Muslim practitioners traditionally wait a few years before cutting but that appears to be changing as the custom is being "medicalized" in hospitals as in the US. In many Muslim countries, there is the ritual removal of healthy female genital tissue, usually the clitoris and the labia. Among tribes in East Africa, the bloody gash is even stitched together until the girl is cut open on her wedding night. Needless to say many physical as well as mental problems result from these customs. Circumcision of females is strictly prohibited in the United States and western countries. Circumcision for infant males is not only permitted, but is routine and even encouraged by doctors.

Recently the New York Times printed an article about increased suffering and death in Southern Africa resulting from teen age boys seeking early initiation into ritual circumcision traditionally performed at puberty. This rite of entering manhood is depicted on ancient Egyptian temple walls and most likely originated much earlier. Although a much smaller portion of the covering of the penis is removed in this ritual than in the US, unsterile conditions produce very high rates of infection, suffering and death.

The Times gave no reason for the impetuosity of these young men, but is seems reasonable to suggest they might have been influenced by prominent medical researchers from Canada and the University of California at San Francisco who advocate universal male circumcision for all African males - from infants to adults - as a means of reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS. This insane suggestion ignoring unsanitary conditions, was actually dignified by being mentioned in a special report by Roger Cohen in the US journal Science, in a special edition on AIDS in Africa.

Wanting to know more about the poor old man who ended his life so miserably, I searched the Internet and after sifting through page after page of useless print, came across a fascinating article in the LA Weekly by Paul Ciotti, "Why Did He Cut Off That Man's Leg?" ( The report is long, detailed and exceptionally well written, exposing a disturbing and frightening part of California society. Ciotti focuses mainly on former doctor John Brown who seems to be barely in touch with his perversion of the healers art.

Ciotti, a highly regarded journalist who has worked for top newspapers in the country for many years, told the Coastal Post he became interested in the story when he recognized the name of the disgraced doctor and recalled having interviewed him in the mid 1970s when he worked for the San Francisco Chronicle. Paul noticed one of Herb Caen's columns which mentioned, " a doctor down on Lombard Street who was 'lopping' people's penises off." That was how he first met Dr. Brown.

Paul did not write the original story in the 1970s, but later wrote the present one by interviewing former patients of Brown. He didn't think he would be able to publish in mainstream newspapers, such as the NY or LA Times or the Washington Post, so he chose the LA Weekly, an alternative publication. Since writing the article, he has been contacted by many people who referred him to Web Sites specializing in apotemnophillia, (a recently coined word for a fetish, or a sexual fixation on the stumps of amputated limbs and a compulsive need to look at, or touch them, in order to obtain sexual gratification. Some members of this group are obsessed with cutting off a leg or a limb.)

The old man came to Southern California with a friend who shared his desire to have a healthy leg amputated. The friend, also from New York, a Jungian Analyst, had arranged for his operation with Dr. Brown, but at the last minute had second thoughts and declined. The old man took advantage of his friend's refusal and took his place. Dr. Brown removed the old man's leg and he died a few days later. (It is not clear why the friend, the Jungian analyst, was not charged with being an accessory to the murder of his friend.)

The Coastal Post asked Paul if he knew if either or both men were circumcised or if they might be Jewish. He said he did not know. His opinion was that Munchhausen Syndrome (exaggerating or inventing an imaginary illness or injury to attract medical attention and sympathy) might play a role, but he wasn't sure. He visited several web sites but was so revolted by the images that he was not able to continue. He said he had recently been contacted by a Hollywood producer interested in doing a movie on the subject.

(The psychiatric diagnosis of "Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy" was prominently brought to public attention by San Anselmo Psychiatrist Dr. Martin Blinder, in a Marin County case of a woman who was convicted of having systematically poisoned her adopted daughter to gain sympathy and attention. In another notorious case, Blinder advocated the so-called "Twinky Defense" -that eating junk food so distressed Dan White that it mitigated his intent to deliberately murder Mayor George Mosconi who was shot down by White who then shot him in the head execution style. Blinder himself recently came close to being murdered when he was stabbed by his ex-wife who then committed suicide.)

The old man had an extensive collection of photos of male amputees which seemed to Paul to indicate a homoerotic aspect. Others he had seen involved female amputees, so there seems to be some kind of a sexual preference involved in amputated limbs. One thinks of the many photos of Cambodians, Slavs, Angolans and others victims of long forgotten buried land mines, or children and women from Sierra Leone and Burundi holding the stumps of arms whose hands had been cut off. Could anyone be sexually stimulated by this? Would anyone want to voluntarily remove an arm or a leg to look like this? It seems so.

An East Bay computer expert, a consultant to, and a regular reader of the Coastal Post, said he knew of a web site called "The Devotee" which is devoted to amputation which, he is reliably informed, receives some 250,000 "hits" or visits a month, obviously a sign of great interest. One Internet site claimed that apotemnophillia was the "fetish of the moment" and was "all the rage" with "celebs" and that web sites like 'Mail Order Russian Amputee Brides' have sprung up everywhere to meet the public's insatiable appetite for the paraplegic." While this may be so, it seems exaggerated and the Coastal Post was unable to confirm much -other than, "Amputee Lady -Meet one legged Russian ladies! at" (a vulgar, disgusting site seeming edited in Australia)

Marilyn Milos, the founder and Executive Director of the National Organization On Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC) located in San Anselmo was fired from her job as a post-partum nurse at Marin General Hospital in the mid 1980s for providing parents with information regarding the risks of circumcision. She had allowed her three sons to be circumcised without really knowing what was involved -until she became a nurse.

Milos said that circumcision is a traumatic primal wound unnecessarily inflicted on day old infant boys. The spectrum of reactions to this violent act is difficult to determine but we know it encodes the brain to associate sexual pleasure with pain and violence. For many years she has been interested in studying death row inmates, sexual sadists and serial killers, almost all of them male, to determine if neonatal circumcision can be shown to play any role in these acts -but coming by this information is extremely difficult.

There are any number of traumatic birth events that have been implicated in anxiety, depression and phobias which one can find described in serious and popular medical texts, but rarely, if ever, is circumcision, male or female, mentioned. The vast majority of violence in all societies is directly caused by men. We should be doing what we can to reduce the violence inflicted on boys from birth.

Just viewing an amputated limb could easily be associated with an "amputated" penis. Both clothed and hidden. Both painfully altered in a traumatic event. The majority of boys born in this country start off life with the painful and unnecessary mutilation of the most sensitive organ in their body. It doesn't mean they will be deviant, but if they are unlucky in having other violent experiences, the unconscious brain gets further encoded to sexual violence of one kind or other, perhaps towards others or towards oneself. People do strange, violent things for a reason.

So, in deciding which organs one can legally remove with minimum justification, it seems clear that male sex organs are socially and legally acceptable. If you have an infant son you don't even have to reach out and contact anyone, someone will contact you!

You can modify your face as much as you like -think Michael Jackson -but you can't do much of it yourself. You can't legally kill yourself except in a few states and a few countries and you can't cut off an arm or a leg -at least not yet -like suicide, that may be changing.


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