Pupils explore the science of phantom limb pain
Staff and pupils met in the Biology Department to hear Sixth Form pupil Audrey Fu present on phantom pain. More than 80% of amputees experience pain in the lost limb, and 20% of people born missing a limb experience pain from the limb they have never had. Audrey explained different models of pain and it is likely that our model of pain being transmitted from a wound to the brain is not correct. The brain may well be the source rather than the recipient of pain.
For our debate, Audrey posed the scenario of someone convinced their body was wrong with four limbs, requesting that one of their healthy limbs be amputated. Should a doctor perform the amputation? We explored issues of autonomy and non-maleficence, as well as informed consent.
While the issue seemed clear cut at the outset we wondered if the conclusion would be different if it was only a finger. Is it really that different from a living kidney donor, or even someone who feels they have been born into the wrong body and would like a gender reassignment? Other avenues considered were whether pain matters if you cannot remember it? Do foetuses experience pain? Is birth painful for the baby as well as the mother? We seem to have generated more questions and empty pizza boxes than answers, but a good time was had by all.
Thank you to Audrey who won a Corpus Christi essay prize for her research on this topic last year.