It happened on August 24, 1986. Paul Morgan (also known as Freck) had been out boating with friends. On their way back, while pulling the boat behind their truck, he fell out and was run over by the trailer. Despite three months spent in a number of hospitals, Paul was left paralysed. Everything he had ever dreamed of accomplishing came crashing down around him.
Today, after years of pain and rehabilitation, Paul uses leg braces that give him a limited ability to walk. Technology can help him now, but he can't afford it. Insurance doesn't cover the amputation either, as it is not deemed a necessary procedure.
Needless to say, Paul has been hurt by the attitude of the medical fraternity and insurance industry. He wants to do all he could earlier - play basketball, go fishing, and ski down the Alps. He also wants the world to know he has something to say. Therefore, on September 19, 2001, Paul Morgan will amputate his feet online, with over a million people watching!
Why, Paul? Because, for him, this is a way of speaking out. On a more practical note, by charging a small fee for access to the event by Web cam, he also hopes to raise money for the prosthetics which will, one day, enable him to walk at a normal pace and even run again.
Here's how it works. People logging on to Freck's site are given the option of becoming members. Once that happens, they automatically enter a contest, where two winners get a free trip to the amputation, airfare, and two nights hotel accommodation.
Till that happens, there will be live chats and a step-by-step screening of the guillotine being built. Surfers can also log on for testing sessions where Paul will use sides of beef to test the blade.
The big question: Is this a hoax?
Alex Boese, an expert on matters like these, is not sure. "I can't say definitively if it is real or not. It seems to belong, thematically, to a fast-growing new category of gross-out hoaxes perpetrated through the Internet like manbeef and bonsaikitten", he says. "Hoaxes of this kind draw people in by presenting them with a situation that is so disgusting or socially taboo, that they can't believe it could actually be real. These hoaxes play on people's morbid fascination with the violation of taboos."
He does say there are a number of points in favour of this being real though. "Firstly, the story holds water. The arbitrary nature of insurance regulations might drive someone to protest in this fashion. Secondly, the site is accepting money to view the amputation. If no amputation happens, someone who paid them could legitimately sue them for criminal fraud, and most hoaxers are very careful not to put themselves in jeopardy of this."
The truth lies with Paul alone, and he's not saying much apart from what's posted at the site's FAQ page. "How many people are you hoping will watch the amputation?" asks someone, to which he replies, "I'm hoping at least 200,000 people will tune in for the amputation." "Are you insane?" asks another genuinely curious soul. "No, I am not," says Freck. "This is something I have thought through very carefully. For those who still doubt, I plan to have a full psychiatric evaluation done to prove that I'm completely sane."
In a rare interview to Register, Freck said, "Even if someone donates the money for the operation, prosthetics and aftercare, I'm still going ahead with it." Morgan told the web site he would use local anaesthetic during the operation and also have a team of doctors with him. When asked about the pain, he said, "I'll just have to grin and bear it."
But the whole thing reminds Alex Boese of the freak shows attached to travelling circuses of the nineteeth century. "In fact, keeping cutoffmyfeet.com in mind, one of the more popular freak show exhibits of the mid-nineteenth century was 'Santa Anna's leg': a wooden leg that the Mexican general Santa Anna supposedly lost on the field of battle. He really did lose it, but most of the legs on display at those circuses were not his."
Boese says that "the harder it is to find out information about the source of a claim, the more likely it is that the claim is a hoax. So on balance, I would vote for the site being a hoax until more can be found out about the site's creator. I would also want his story to be verified by sources other than himself."
Horrifying, but true? Or well-planned practical joke? I suppose we'll just have to wait until September 19 to find out.