A Pirate’s Life for Richard

A Model for Dream-Affirming Caregivers of the Future

Of all the stories his nanny had read to him, Richard liked the pirate stories most. He had every kind of pirate costume his parents could find, and when he was five, he wore an eye patch for so long, his vision had been affected. After the ophthalmologist scolded his mother about not allowing that any longer, she made up for that loss in other ways. When he turned eight, she rented a large sailing vessel to provide a realistic pirate and crew birthday party.

Now that he was turning twelve, he had a special request. He could be a better pirate if he had a hook. He was left-handed, and he rarely used his right hand for anything. He would not miss it. Oh, think of all the cool things he could do if he had a hook in place of that hand!

He waited for the opportune moment, which came one evening when he and his parents were eating dessert. “Richard?” his mother said, “Do you have any thoughts about what you’d like for your birthday?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I have thought about it a lot! I want a hook.”

“A hook? For what? What kind of hook?”

“A hook for my right arm.”

“Do you mean a hook to hold in your right hand?” asked his father.

“No, I mean a hook to replace my right hand. Like a pirate!”

“Have you thought about this, Richard?” his mother asked. “Do you know what limitations that would pose on you now and in the future?”

“Oh, yes,” he responded. “I have not only thought about this; I have dreamed about it. It would be wonderful. I could impress my friends. I could get things off high shelves more easily. No one would attack me when they saw my hardware. I would even have special rights because of my disability. But I wouldn’t be disabled. I’d be whole!”

“We need to give this serious thought, Richard,” his father said, guardedly.

“I’ll make an appointment with my personal surgeon tomorrow,” his mother announced. “I have him on speed dial. He always does what I want done.”

The next day, Richard and his mother arrived at the surgeon’s office for their 1:00 PM appointment. It was always good to be the first appointment after lunch. Dr. Powers would be in a good mood. 

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Bennington,” the surgeon said. “You always look lovely; younger, as well.”

“I was a bit surprised to see your name on my calendar today. It hasn’t been long since you were last here. I hope everything is going well?” 

“Oh, yes, I am quite well, thank you.”

He turned his attention to Richard. “You know, I can’t say we have had a pirate in the office for some years now. Did you bring your mother in willingly, or is this an abduction?”

“This is an appointment. I want a hook, and Mom said that you would be able to help me.”

“A hook?” The doctor raised his left eyebrow ever so slightly. “What kind of hook?”

“A hook for my right hand – so I can be a real pirate!”

Dr. Powers looked at Richard’s mother, who smiled encouragingly.

“Well, I could possibly talk with the prosthetics department about getting you a hook. I suppose they could construct one you could hold in your right hand.”

“No,” said Richard. “I mean a hook to replace my right hand. I am naturally left-handed. I never do anything with my right hand. I wouldn’t miss it. I would be happier with a hook instead.”

“Let me see that hand, Mr. Pirate.” The hand looked normal. Good pulse. The skin and nails looked healthy. 

“Well, young man, er, Pirate,” he looked at Richard. “You have a nice-looking right hand there.  It would be a shame to do it harm.”

“Harm?!  I am talking about enhancement, Doctor!”

“Well, why don’t you step across the hall to the waiting room for a few minutes. There are iPads, a TV, and a gaming console you can enjoy while I talk with your mother.”

Richard walked out, and the doctor turned to his mother. “Help me understand this, please. Are you seriously asking me to amputate the normal non-dominant hand of your child?”

“Oh, Richard has always been a pirate afficionado! He doesn’t ask for much. His 12th birthday is coming up, and this is what he wants. He’s dreamed of being a pirate for years. He loves the pirate stories and wants to be like that.”

“But dreams change over time.”

“Not his. He’s insistent. And frankly, so am I. I can’t give Richard any siblings. I can, however, help him fulfill this dream. Or … rather, you can.” 

“I haven’t done an amputation in years,” the doctor replied. “I don’t normally do pediatric cases.  I need to think about this. I also need to consult our legal department.”

“Legal? Why, what would be illegal about doing a surgical procedure your patient desires?”

“Well, there are some small-minded people who write laws about doing elective surgery on minors – about informed consent, that sort of thing,” the surgeon explained. “It’s a nuisance, certainly.”  

*** Editor's note: Salvo has been covering the ethics of body modification technologies from the beginning:

See also:

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A. (Bioethics), is the Executive Director of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture.  Board certified in internal medicine, she has also done basic science research in biochemistry.  Her passion is speaking up for vulnerable humans, and her areas of interest include the international stem cell research and cloning debate, genetics issues, the transhumanist movement, and medical ethics, including transplantation ethics and end-of-life issues.

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