Playing doctor with yourself

Now, now, this is going to be clean.

A week or two back there was a thread about a guy who performed dentistry on himself. Then there’s an old joke about the hardest questions on the medical exam, one of which supposedly is “Under your seat you’ll find a bottle of bourbon and a razor blade. Remove your appendix.”

All this got me to wonderin’. Does the law prohibit me practicing medicine on myself?

I’m not talking about stuff that would require me to violate the law outright, like administering illegal/controlled drugs. Nor am I talking about “extreme” or “emergency” situations, like, say, lifeboat or battlefield surgery.

But I am talking about, say, kitchen table surgery. Or more likely, Lazy-Boy surgery.

Not sure where you are from, but most laws don’t forbid unlicensed people from practicing medicine, but for selling their practices or holding themselves out to others as being licensed practitioners.

Most countries have laws to prevent you from committing surgical acts that result in your own death, otherwise it is your body to do with as you see fit so long as you are sane. Certain surgical procedures may be an indication that you are insane and therefore require you to be insitutionalized for your own protection. I believe Michael Jackson falls into this category - although he hasn’t actually done the work himself.

NOT old joke…

jasg: Well I’ll be. Great photo. Thanks.

Hrdygrdymn wrote:

“Not sure where you are from, but most laws don’t forbid unlicensed people from practicing medicine, but for selling their practices or holding themselves out to others as being licensed practitioners.”

I’m from NYC, NY, USA.

Do you mean to say that if I got my brother to agree to let me take out his appendix on my dining room table with an X-acto knife, a bottle of iodine and a sewing needle, the authorities would think it was okee-dokee as long as I didn’t charge him and I made it clear that I’m not a licensed surgeon? Really?!?!

So am I. Please put the knife down…

The authorities would probably also prefer that he survived the procedure, and therein would be the rub. Even if your brother gave fully informed consent, my WAG is you’d still be charged with at least reckless endangerment (delicate, dangerous procedure attempted without any training? Fits the bill to me…). IANAL, but I don’t believe that most laws regarding homicide, endangerment, et cet, make any stipulations at all about whether the, umm, victim gives consent.

Out on a limb, I’m also guessing that a most of these laws, in a lot of states, don’t say anything about who you are doing it to. So if you were to attempt the operation on your brother or yourself, without the needed training, it may matter not a whit…

Operating on your brother is a different matter. Whereas you have dominion over your own body, assaulting someone else’s (regardless of consanguinity) may be an offense even with consent.

Consider 2 examples:

  1. You step into a boxing ring with Tyson. You are giving him consent to do a bit of amature dental surgery, and even if you die, he is not criminally responsible so long as he was operating within the rules of boxing you voluntarily consented to.

  2. A wife is raped by her husband but tells the police that she gave consent to being physically violated in order to avoid future punishment from him.

In the latter case, the police may (and in some states must) arrest the husband regardless of any statement of consent made by the wife. Whether those charges go through to prosecution depends on a number of things, but the fact is that the law says it is a crime.

So if the prosecutor decides that your home surgery on someone else is assault and the court agrees, then it is against the law. In most cases, however, charges would not proceed without your brother’s assistance. Technically speaking, scarring your brother while lancing his boils amounts to assault if the prosecution can show that you should reasonalbly have known that your actions may have maimed, disfigured or killed your brother whether or not you intended to do so.

The long and the short of it is that you are punished not based on your actions but by the result of those actions.

Getting away from the surgery on other people bit, it’s generally not against the law for you to injure yourself. You may not be allowed to possess or use “certain substances”, but aside from anything related to those you can do what you want to yourself. Suicide is not a crime in most states, even where it’s illegal convictions for it (well, attempted for obvious reasons) are rare, and treatments/injuries to oneself are even more rarely criminal.

What will happen, however, if you start breaking out the home surgery kit is that your mental competence will be called into question. It’s not criminal to be insane, but if you’re determined to be a ‘danger to self or others’ by the appropriate body in your state then you can be involuntarily committed. If you are certain you can convince the appropriate board that you’re sane, or that what you’re doing won’t be considered a danger to yourself, then you’re fine. Otherwise you may not be looking at criminal charges, but will get to become familiar with the inside of a psychiatric hospital.

In a mountain hut in New Zealand I was once shown a small pamplet on self doctoring in the bush - it was pretty old, around 1950 from the look of the illustrations, and a real laugh.

The section on self amputation was pretty extraordinary but my favourite bit were the instructions for setting a dislocated shoulder blade when alone by throwing yourself backwards off a rock!! It was hard to believe it could have been extensively road tested…