Bioethics Blogs

Can Clinicians Maim Healthy Organs? The Case of Jewel Shuping

by Matthew Diaz

This October, reports surfaced that a psychologist deliberately blinded a North Carolina woman named Jewel Shuping, per her request. Thirty-year-old Shuping suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder (“BIID”), a psychiatric condition in which individuals experience an overwhelming, lifelong desire to develop a disability—most often by amputating a limb but sometimes by maiming an organ. Even if they are completely healthy, classic BIID sufferers feel that their natural body state is incomplete and that only through amputation or maiming can they achieve their “true identity.” The blinding of Shuping warrants close inspection, since a clinician irreversibly altered a patient’s physiological experience by maiming an essential organ creates a conflict between patient autonomy and clinical ethics.

Despite being born with healthy, functional eyes, Shuping self-identified as blind since childhood. For her, the adage that looking into the sun will gravely damage one’s eyesight was not only appealing, but it also became her life’s mission. As a child, Shuping would spend hours watching sunspots and solar storms, with the intent of permanently losing her vision. In an interview released in October, Shuping recounts, “By the time I was six, I remember that thinking about being blind made me feel comfortable.” Indeed, Shuping began emulating the lifestyle practices of blind people as she matured—in her teenage years, she sported thick, black sunglasses and walked with a cane, and she was proficient in braille by age twenty. Determined to turn her dream into a permanent reality, Shuping found a psychologist in the Midwest willing to irreversibly damage her eyesight.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.