The Strange Case of Dr Evil image

The Strange Case of Dr Evil

When is a piercing adornment, when disfigurement? What about a tattoo? What about body modification? How about if someone has body dysmorphia – should they be able to have the part of the body that disturbs them removed?

Both Andrew & I have meandered into the world of tattoos before (here and here) but the recent case of ‘Dr Evil’ got me thinking about it again.

Dr Evil is a Wolverhampton tattoo artist who also ran a little ‘surgical’ business on the side. Brendan McCarthy, as Dr Evil is otherwise known, admitted causing grievous bodily harm and will be sentenced next month. Despite having the consent of his clients, as the law currently stands McCarthy was guilty of GBH in removing ears and splitting tongues.

Some questions on this.

Firstly, clearly there is a difference between having an earring and having metal horns inserted in one’s forehead – but where does the line lie in defining the difference? According to the BBC, the judge in this case drew the distinction between body modification and tattoos and piercings, saying there is “no proper analogy”. That feels about right, but what about the person who has the entirety of their face tattooed? Is that any less extreme, or any less disfiguring, than a tongue bifurcation? I’m not sure how to parse such distinctions. What about you? If a brother or sister in Christ wanted their tongue split in two, or their whole face covered in tattoos, would that feel in line with or beyond the limits of Christian freedom? On what grounds do you give your answer? And if you might feel uneasy about a full-facial tattoo, where would you draw the line (literally as well as metaphorically) about how much body art is acceptable for a Christian?

Secondly, to what extent should society accommodate the desires of those who seem to genuinely feel an intense need to make extreme physical, permanent, changes to their bodies? The BBC reports King of Ink Land King Body Art The Extreme Ink-Ite (born Matthew Whelan), as saying, “Under current laws, we are classed as effectively consenting abuse victims.” Should the law treat such people as victims of abuse, or as adults choosing to do something important to them which doesn’t affect anyone else? Should people be free to do with their bodies as they wish or does society at times have a duty to protect people from their own desires? Can it ever be morally right to remove a healthily functioning part of the body, whether for cosmetic reasons or because of a deep-held ‘need’ to have the offending body part removed? Why anyone would want their ear removed is unimaginable to most of us, but does that render such a decision illegitimate?

I don’t much like tattoos. That is a personal aesthetic judgment and I wouldn’t expect anyone to be bound by my aesthetics on this anymore than I would by my preferences in music or visual art. But at the least, a Christian theology that sees the body as essentially good and capable of redemption will be hesitant about making permanent changes to the body – especially those that would generally be regarded as mutilating. Indeed, this is one of the characteristics that has separated more Christian societies from animist ones. If the human being – body and soul –  is somehow made in the image of God then we will not want to disfigure it.

In a Christian worldview, doctors do no evil.


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