E.g.: organ failure kills a person. Cancers do this too. Or, figuratively, a person bringing down a group. Like synecdoche and metonym but for murder. Maybe “metacide”?

In a literal sentence: “His heart committed _________ against his body.”

Or, used figuratively: “Aspects of the U.S. are now so poisonous to the body politic that they are on the verge of _________.”

  • Just to clarify, you're searching for a noun to describe this phenomenon, right?
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 23:03
  • This is two words, and not quite right, but autoimmune disorder has aspects of what you are looking for. healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders#Overview1
    – ab2
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 0:08
  • There probably is some obscure medical term, perhaps ending with "-cide" or "-pathy". In fact, autocide seems good, except that it's only recognized in this sense by Wictionary. (And "autopathy" is, oddly, promoted as a homeopathic "cure".)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 1:02
  • mutiny? not great
    – SAH
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 16:09

3 Answers 3


Consider the verb gangrene.

In its medical sense, it refers to a specific decease, e.g. the decay and feath of body tissues usually in the extremities like the foot and the leg which darken due to lack of blood circulation. Gangrene requires amputation. (source)

In its figurative sense, it means to affect with moral or spiritual corruption and decadence that pervades an individual or group. (source)


Bringing to account those responsible for the violations described in this report and making sure that these violations do not repeat themselves in the future will require concerted and sustained action by all of these actors to end the impunity that gangrenes the judicial system. (source)

Our political system is decaying. It’s on the way to gangrene. It’s reaching a critical mass of citizen revolt. (source: Ralph Nader)

  • This is pretty good!! Are you quoting some source in the blockquote?
    – Toph
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 16:45
  • @Toph - I edited the answer to provide the sources.
    – Graffito
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:29
  • That quoted use of gangrene as a verb seems pretty unusual to me - I certainly wouldn't insert it into the OP's intended sentence.
    – Useless
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 13:27
  • @Useless - You are right. The OP's sentences need to be reworded to use the word "gangrene".
    – Graffito
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 13:54

Either apoptosis or autolysis would be a more accurate analogy than gangrene, which is an infection and not part of the body acting against itself.

However, neither are widely used outside cell biology and they're unlikely to be rhetorically useful.

Suicide is more direct, but lacks the connotation of part-acting-against-the-whole. It also has a suggestion of intent which might be problematic - self-destruction might be slightly better.


The following suggestions rely of the analogy between the human body and a government or state, but their applicability is broader. Definitions are from http://www.merriam-webster.com/. I have refrained from editing the examples any more than necessary to use the suggested words.

“His heart committed treason against his body.”

treason: the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign's family

"His heart rebelled against his body.”

rebel: to oppose a person or group in authority

"Aspects of the U.S. are now so poisonous to the body politic that they are on the verge of rebellion.”

rebellion: open opposition toward a person or group in authority

"Aspects of the U.S. are now so poisonous to the body politic that they are on the verge of anarchy.”

anarchy: a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority

“Aspects of the U.S. are now so poisonous to the body politic that they are on the verge of destruction.”

destroy: to ruin the structure, organic existence, or condition of; to put out of existence

If two words would work, fatal flaw or fatal defect might fit the bill.

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