BBC News has a piece today, reporting the case of a man who wanted to donate his amputated leg then chose to hold a guess-the-weight competition last month after his limb was rejected for use in scientific research. The report questions what are the rules about what you can do with an amputated limb?
Each year, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 major limb amputations carried out nationally. After surgery, the limbs are routinely incinerated as medical waste – but amputees say there should be more choices made available.
“It would have been nice to have been given an option,” said Pete Rowswell, from Langport in Somerset.
He elected to have his leg amputated after his club foot caused him years of pain. “It’s like a last goodbye to part of you,” he said.
Currently, hospital trusts and surgeons are left to decide their own policy in regard to amputations.
“From a legal perspective you are free to do anything with [an amputated limb] as long as there is not a public health issue,” says Jenna Khalfan, from the Human Tissue Authority.
“Broadly we would say that an individual who wanted to take their tissue home with them would need to give written consent that would be recorded by the hospital to ensure traceability.”
But then there is the matter of what to do with an amputated leg or arm if it is released to you.
Although according to section 9 of the Cremation Regulations Act 2008, you cannot cremate a limb from someone who is still alive – only from someone who has died – there are still choices. One obvious choice is to incinerate and clinical waste though that is cremation in another name. The law truly is an ass on occasions!
Sabia Rehman, the Muslim chaplain of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, has set up what she believes is the first public burial site in the UK for amputated limbs.
“The fight to get a site began when a young man had his lower leg amputated and he wanted to bury it,” she said.
“He was told that he could take it home and bury it in the garden but he felt uncomfortable doing this.”
So she set up a campaign for a burial site and two years later a shared space opened in a Sheffield graveyard.
Limbs are kept in a mortuary and the burial site is opened twice a year to inter them. Anyone can use the free service and so far about 20 limbs have been buried there.
“It’s not just about Muslim patients, it’s about every single patient being given a choice,” said Ms Rehman.
But the amputee community itself is not united about the question of choice.
Stuart Holt, chair of the Limbless Association, lost both his legs 18 years ago after contracting meningitis.
“I didn’t know, never asked, never questioned – I was just glad that I didn’t have them any more,” he said.
“Some people say they want them stored and buried with them. I can’t understand why anyone would want to.”
amputation, cremation, Blenkharn Environmental, clinical waste, clinical waste disposal, incineration, tissue waste, waste management, waste regulation, waste treatment