Imagine the possibility of never being able to run, climb, jump, skip, or even walk again. Then imagine the malicious laughter of your classmates behind your back or the sympathetic or stunned stares from strangers on the street. Imagine having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, using the restroom, balancing while brushing your teeth, and going down stairs. Being a lower-limb amputee without a prosthetic device or with an ineffective one would make life very difficult for you and the loved ones that have to take care of you. Prosthetic devices like the Seattle Foot have an incredibly significant effect on the quality of life for amputees and their loved ones.

Unfortunately, even though the improvements of prosthetic devices allow for some semblance of a normal life, negative connotations concerning prosthetics and amputation surgery still subsist. Negative attitudes towards amputees have existed since the beginning of human consciousness. It would have been hard for an early human with a missing limb to survive the harsh conditions of the hunter-gathering world, thus being shunned by the rest of the nomadic group. In ancient civilizations, deformed babies were either not accepted or put to death because they were seen as a liability or a threat to society. Aztec King Montezuma II created a separate compound for the disabled situated between the entertaining royal zoo and the beautiful gardens. They were located there to keep them separate from Aztec society to provided protection from the citizens, even though it was degrading. [1] As discussed in a previous section, ancient Egyptians believed that amputations would not only be in present life, but also appear in the afterlife. Because of this, they buried the amputated limb with the amputee to “ensure a whole eternal life.”[2] The more evidence of society’s negative attitude can be found in 218 B.C.E with Roman general Marcus Sergiun. Although he bravely led his arm against Carthage in the second Punic War and sustained 23 injuries, he was denied priesthood because he used an iron prosthesis and it was thought that priests needed two normal hands.[3] The concern over how the person would function in society in real life or the afterlife in these examples clearly shows that civilizations worried about the negative implications of disabilities.

Currently attitudes are changing because of the movements to define political correctness and acceptance of all people. This is important because lower-limb amputations cover 91.7 percent of amputation surgeries.[4] Organizations like the Veterans Administration and the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association push for better research and financial aid to amputees. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent 168 million dollars to purchase 8,058 prosthetic legs and 86, 945 wheelchairs, scooters, and accessories in 2007. The War on Terrorism has resulted in 737 soldiers that have lost limbs, all who have been provided with prosthetic fitting and care for life. According to the VA, America’s veterans receive the best care in the world. Also, they claim that a prescription written by a VA doctor makes “any prosthetic device in the marketplace available to a veteran.”[5] The increased government involvement and funding for prosthetic devices greatly impacts the veterans who are able to return to an independent life after fighting for their country and society’s perception of amputees.

Amputation’s negative connotation may have been caused and continued by the pain an amputation surgery caused. It may also be because many societies utilized the painful amputation is a punishment for crimes. For example, in numerous societies if a person stole, he would have his hands removed. The amputees would then be considered and ostentatiously identified as the lowest members of society. However, the attitudes also sustain because of society’s vision of “normal” and “wholeness”.

Hopefully, the increased technology and accommodations for amputees will be followed with society’s positive attitude towards physically disabled people. Being an amputee in any society was difficult whether you struggled through Montezuma II’s Aztec empire or President Obama’s America.

[1] “A History of Prosthetics and Amputation Surgery,” Out On a Limb, (accessed March 15, 2009).

[2] “A History of Prosthetics and Amputation Surgery,” Out On a Limb, (accessed March 15, 2009).

[3] Allen J. Thurston, “Pare and Prosthetics: The Early History of Artificial Limbs,” ANZ Journal of Surgery 77, (2007): 1114.

[4] Laura L. Smith, “Technology Aids Advances in Prosthetic Limb Development,” Jacksonville Business Journal, (April 2, 1999): 8.

[5] Frederick Downs, “Prosthetics in the VA: Past, Present, and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 134, no. 2 (February 2008): 56-57.

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