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Preliminary report on “Ashley treatment” (growth attenuation, etc.) symposium

Date: May 16, 2007

I just came back from Seattle, where I attended a symposium on the so-called “Ashley treatment”–a combination of hormonal growth attenuation, hysterectomy, and breast buds removal on a girl with severe developmental disabilities–at University of Washington. It was pretty intense, with some parents of disabled kids lining up to praise the “Ashley treatment” and demanding it for their own children. They were also extremely disingenuous–they insist that they are 100% looking out for the best interest of their children, and their own convenience or comfort has absolutely nothing to do with their request for this sort of treatment. I’d been able to have more empathy toward them if they were to express their own needs as caretakers, rather than masking them as the children’s.

It was also painful to watch doctors involved in this case, including the chair of the ethics committee that approved the treatment, totally exposing themselves to be ignorant of bioethics as well as the sterilization statute. They seem to think that their failure to seek court order before performing hysterectomy was a minor, procedural error, when in fact (as Anne Tamar-Mattis, director of Institute for Intersex Children and the Law said) Ashley was denied the fundamental right to have her interests represented by a guardian ad litem. They said, for example, that it would be useless to appoint a guardian ad litem because they won’t be familiar with the case and can’t possibly be completely neutral and balanced. But that’s not the point of the process at all: guardian ad litem is not supposed to be neutral or balanced, but to steadfastly advocate for the child’s bodily integrity, especially in sterilization case (it should be adversarial, i.e. the default position for an advocate is to oppose the procedure).

I’ll have a fuller report on the symposium tomorrow (or maybe the day after). I need to go to bed now, after four hours of Greyhound.

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