Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Ashley Treatment

I first saw this in the International Herald Tribune today and it's popped up on several of the Internet news sites I read. The longest article is on Wikinews here, and more information straight from the source is here.

The matter is a rather tricky ethical matter. A family has a child who is severally mentally handicapped, but not physically. The child, Ashley, is now around nine years old. The family after much consultation with doctors, has had Ashley undergo several forms of medical treatment to prevent her further physical development. Hormone treatment has stunted her growth so she won't grow much more than her current 4 foot 5 inches (already relatively small), and has had her uterus and breast buds removed, preventing her from developing breasts or menstruating later on. She also had her appendix removed

There are a number of aspects to consider while debating the merits of this course of action. From a practical standpoint, someone the size of a small child is a lot easier to look after, move around and so on. Preventing menstruation also avoids further means of Ashley making a mess of herself. However taking such extreme actions on a person just to make your life easier is not so palatable.

The reason that has been put forward by her family is that by preventing further growth and development it will make Ashley's life better. She won't have to be manhandled as much when older, she can stay with her family, she won't suffer menstrual pains that she would not understand, she'll be less likely to endure bed sores and other problems associated with those who spend large amounts of time still. Having her appendix removed now removes the risk of it developing problems which she can't tell other about if she experienced them, and could only otherwise be detected at the last minute.

I think Ashley's family has mostly thought of things from this second viewpoint, but I'm sure ideas from the practical standpoint have crept into their thoughts.

I'm still not sure where I stand on this. I'm not sure I approve of such massive stifling of someone's development, even someone who may not be able to make use of a full grown body. Perhaps a treatment to her problem may be developed in 10 years time, leaving her to grow old in the body of a young child.

It's a murky issue, and it's probably just as well I didn't have to make it, as I'd still be thinking until the child was grown up.

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