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First Report of Nonpsychotic Self-Cannibalism (Autophagy), Tongue Splitting, and Scar Patterns (Scarification) as an Extreme Form of Cultural Body Modification in a Western Civilization

Benecke, Mark M.D.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 1999 - Volume 20 - Issue 3 - p 281-285

As part of her current lifestyle, a 28-year-old Caucasian woman routinely injures and allows subsequent healing of her skin and other tissues. Her body modifications include a "split tongue" (a tongue split to the base), which does not interfere with speaking and eating. Other modifications include large scarification patterns produced by branding and cutting. This woman has been known to eat parts of her skin that were previously cut out of her body. She also performs "needle play" by allowing medical syringe needles to be lodged temporarily under her skin. The patient had a normal childhood, is currently employed full-time as an office manager, and is psychologically stable. Although one other case of self-induced penoscrotal hypospadias is known, this is the only report of extensive, nonpsychotic, autodestructive behavior. However, this may not be the case in the future as an increasing number of young individuals have become interested in body modifications.

From the Universität zu Köln, Institut für Zoologie, Köln, Germany.

Manuscript received October 23, 1998; accepted May 7, 1999.

This study was performed while the author was employed at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). However, all of the research, including the preparation of this manuscript, was done independently by the author during the time he was not obligated to the OCME. This study was not performed in connection, cooperation, or on behalf of any U.S. federal, state, or local government agency. This was part of an ongoing study on prevailing trends among subculture youth communities.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Mark Beneck, Universität zu Köln, Institut für Zoologie, 50923 Köln, Germany; email:

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.