Stunting Growth

Earlier this week, the New York Times published a story about the increasing usage of “the Ashley treatment.” Such a procedure is not really “treatment,” at least in terms of ameliorating the symptoms of disease, but instead a variety of medical procedures designed to stunt the growth of children with disabilities. Not only did the eponymous Ashley have her stature permanently reduced; her parents also opted for her to undergo a hysterectomy and removal of her breast buds.

I’m horrified that author Genevieve Field actually asks the titular question: “Should parents of children with severe disabilities be allowed to stop their growth?” The question should not be up for public debate, especially in a supposedly post-eugenic society. Whether or not a child is disabled, that child still has the rights to dignity, bodily integrity, and eventual autonomy.

Parents that have sought out the Ashley treatment – at least 65, according to the Times article – attempt to differentiate their disabled children from non-disabled children. The more sane parents tend to argue that it will be difficult to take care of their children as they age into adult bodies. They believe that keeping their children miniaturized will lead to better care. Yet, does size have more effect on quality of life for the disabled party or the caregiver? I have not seen any studies indicating a correlation between physical size and decreased quality of living. I have, however, witnessed caregivers bitching about having to turn and lift anything lighter than a feather. Thus, it’s hard for me to ignore sinister undertones of selfishness and convenience on the part of decision-making parents.

Remember, I called those the parents on the sane end of the spectrum. At least they are capable of rational thought. Some parents also talk about their desire to keep their children just that – perpetual children. One mother, named Nancy – who, of course, chooses to withhold her last name – told Field, that her daughter “needs to be in our laps for our whole life.” I wouldn’t want to be within 10 feet of a sicko like Nancy!

What happens when Nancy and other parents pass away? Are they so codependent with their children that they will end up murdering the child and committing suicide before natural death can run its course? Hey, growth-attenuation is a pretty big deviation from the moral norm, why not go ahead and commit murder, too?

Instead of focusing on why their children are different, I wish these parents would treat their disabled children as they retreat any other child. Yes, they should be nurtured. But they should also be permitted to grow, physically, as well as intellectually and emotionally.

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