“Ashley” and sterilising the severely disabled

I’m sure none of us has missed the story of “Ashley”, the nine-year-old from Washington state whose parents subjected her to major surgery, removing her reproductive system and breast buds and giving her hormone treatment to stop her growing, so that she will remain child-sized, thus easier to carry around, and stopping her becoming woman-like so that she will not be an easy mark for abusers later in life. Angela Phillips (author of Our Bodies, Ourselves) wrote last Thursday generally in favour of the treatment, castigating a disabled blogger ([1], [2], [3]) who objected to the treatment as “medical experimentation” and the “brutal mutilation of a disabled person”, accusing her of identifying with Ashley and seeing her as the child she herself once was, without realising how disabled Ashley is - without any of the prospects physically disabled people enjoy nowadays. Meanwhile, Yvonne Roberts objects to the treatment and to the intrusion they allow into their daughters’ privacy, showing her picture while keeping the identities of their other children (and for that matter themselves) hidden. She also notes the misogynistic tone of Ashley’s father’s blog, observing that he “constantly associates much of what it is to be a woman with discomfort, problems and concerns” and wondering whether he would sanction the castration of a nine-year-old boy for fear that he might become sexually aggressive later in life.

I personally understand why a girl this disabled might be put through this treatment, but the medical profession being as it is, it is unlikely that it would be confined to children this disabled. There was, for example, a documented case of a girl in Australia being given a hysterectomy when she was 14, because she had cerebral palsy (with no intellectual impairments; she can talk and is interviewed here). I have no idea what this lady’s parents were thinking of, but it’s a fact that people can persuade themselves that something is for their children’s own good when it is in fact convenient for themselves. I would suggest that treatments like this be court-regulated and that the consent of an intellectually unimpaired minor in such situations be paramount.

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