Mutilating Ashley for … whose good?

Mutilating Ashley for … whose good?

Every day it seems I see another story where a child is treated like a commodity or accessory by his parents, especially disabled children. Every day it seems the stories get worse. Ed Peters readily summarizes my own outrage at what the parents of 9-year-old Ashley have done to her.

It took me some time to grasp the reality that (in 2004, though the story is “breaking” only now) parents in Seattle directed a team of doctors to cut out the breast-buds of their nine-year-old, severally disabled daughter, remove her womb, and pump her full of growth-retarding hormones so that she stays little. You can read the parental rationales here. The genuine frustration these parents felt over the years is obvious; unfortunately, it only serves as the mortar that binds brick to brick in the wall of fallacious reasoning that Ashely’s parents have erected to defend their decision.

Diogenes addresses the question of what makes this different from actual therapeutic treatment (and provides a photo of poor Ashley.)

It’s the arbitrariness and—I suppose—the finality of the arbitrariness that are unsettling, because the steps are taken in anticipation of hardships and not in response to them. Of course we’d feel sympathy for a child who was neutered in the process of excising a lethal cancer. But surely it makes a difference to a person’s spiritual and emotional life to mutilate her with the purpose that she’ll never mature sexually—even if there’s no foreseeable possibility of a physiologically or socially normal existence in either case. Somehow parental prerogative has crossed a line into a kind of pet ownership (“we spayed kitty for her own good”). It would be a horrible plight for a parent to be constrained to remove a diseased organ from his child, and we could share the anguish of his decision—but can we say the same about the choice to remove a healthy organ?

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Domenico Bettinelli