An exploration of how religion and culture shape perceptions, experiences and practices of the disposal of amputated limbs in the UK
Amputation is the removal of limbs for various reasons including illness, accident or to prevent death. Most amputations in the UK are for lower limbs. Amputations are predicted to double by 2050 due to increasing cases of diabetes, vascular diseases and aging. Amputation may have physical impact such as reduction of that person’s mobility and difficulty in performing some activities of daily living especially manual tasks. Amputation may also have psychological impact such as grief, anxiety, sexual problems, body image problems and phantom limb syndrome.
There is plenty of research focusing on post-amputation experience but very little on pre-amputation hence patients are not fully informed and prepared for amputation process. There is also a lot of emphasis in the physical but not on the psychological aspect of amputation. The question of what happens to the amputated limbs is not adequately addressed and there is limited guidance on this. Knowing how amputated limbs will be disposed is a crucial part of the adjustment process and not addressing this makes the healing process and the realisation of the new self harder for some patients.
There are concerns that amputation patients are not receiving the best care. For example, there are reports that consent administered by doctors for amputation patients falls below standard as it assumes that agreeing to be amputated is treated as agreeing to the disposal procedures set by the healthcare setting and so the patients does not have a say in what happens to their amputated limbs after surgery. Amputated limbs like tissue carry important DNA information that can be used to identify not just the patient but also their origin and family and that is why how amputated limbs are treated and disposed matters significantly.
Various religions and cultures require the body, including amputated limbs to be treated in a specific way. Amputation patients are curious about what would become of their limbs after amputation and often ask whether their amputated limbs are going to be treated in line with their cultural and religious beliefs and with dignity. For this reason, some patients have requested for alternatives on how their limbs should be disposed of. Healthcare professionals do not have the answers because there is no sufficient guidelines to resolve this. This study hopes to bridge this gap by examining cultural and religious factors that affect views and practices of disposal. Objectives of the study are:
1) To explore how religion and culture shape patient perceptions, experiences and practices relating to the disposal of amputated limbs.
2) To explore healthcare professionals' experiences and perceptions of the role of religion and culture in the provision of care for patients undergoing amputation.
3) To understand the role of religious leaders in supporting amputation patients.