What can you do with an amputated limb?

Peter Rowswell
Image caption Peter Rowswell held a guess-the-weight contest of his amputated leg to raise money for charity

A man who wanted to donate his amputated leg chose to hold a guess-the-weight competition last month after his limb was rejected for use in scientific research. But 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.

Image caption Mr Rowswell wanted to donate his leg for medical research but says doctors did not want "a deformed and twisted" limb

"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.

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Media captionWhat are the rules about what you can do with an amputated limb?

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."

Image copyright Eerez Avramov
Image caption Eerez Avramov, who chose to have his damaged right leg removed, hopes to become the first amputee to compete in the Dakar Rally

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."

Image copyright Erez Avramov
Image caption The cremated remains of Eerez Avramov's leg

But, according to motivational speaker and amputee Eerez Avramov, the issue is about rights and choices for those who have lost limbs.

Three years after a car crash in Canada he elected to have his badly damaged right leg amputated. He asked surgeons to keep the limb so he could arrange for it to be cremated.

"I wanted to part from my limb in an honourable way which for me included a ceremonial farewell party and cremation," he said.

One foot in the grave

Lord Uxbridge's leg was shattered by a cannon shot at the Battle of Waterloo. According to an anecdote, he was close to the Duke of Wellington when he was hit, and exclaimed: "By God, sir, I've lost my leg", to which Wellington replied: "By God, sir, so you have."

Uxbridge's amputated leg was buried and later became a tourist attraction. His story is said to be the inspiration for the phrase "one foot in the grave", which is how Uxbridge went on to describe his life after amputation.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Uxbridge's leg was amputated after the Battle of Waterloo

In the graveyard of St Mary's church in Strata Florida, north Wales, is a headstone with a picture of a leg carved into it. The inscription reads: "The left leg and part of the thigh of Henry Hughes Cooper, was cut off and interr'd here, June 18, 1756."

Apparently, the rest of Henry Hughes Cooper went to America and he was never reunited with the limb.

Image copyright Strata Florida Project
Image caption The stone marking the grave of the leg of Henry Hughes Cooper in St Mary's Church, Strata Florida

Gen Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own men on the night of 2 May 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville during the American Civil War. His left arm was amputated and was taken to the family cemetery for burial.

On being told the news, Confederate army commander Robert E Lee said: "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm."

Today, the Jackson Shrine is part of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.

Image copyright NPS
Image caption Stonewall Jackson's arm is buried in the family cemetery at Ellwood, Virginia

Mr Avramov scattered the ashes of his leg and had some incorporated into a piece of glass art.

He is in contact with amputees from across the world via internet forums and says people facing amputation should be given more choices: "On the most part they are told what to do by their doctors and not question their advice.

"I am a strong advocate of self-empowerment and advise people to question any advice they receive."

He added: "At the end of the day this is our body and innately we always know what is best for us. The question is, are we open enough to listen and follow it?"

Mr Rowswell wanted to donate his leg for medical research but said "they didn't want a deformed and twisted leg like mine".

Instead he decided to hold a charity weigh-in and raised nearly £1,500 for the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

"It's been part of my body from the start," he said. "Whether or not it causes problems it is a part of you, and I understand the need to say goodbye."

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