Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Ashley Treatment

Well, after a protracted silence on the blog front, I am back on line, and hopefully this will be a more regularly active site. What brings me out of my long period of inactivity, you ask? A topic that fits most squarely into the working title/content of my blog, brought to my attention by my good friend Bob.

The topic? The so-called "Ashley Treatment", referring to a recent case of a young girl in Seattle, and her parents' decision to pursue some radical medical interventions that have broad implications not only about health care, but about eugenics, social justice, the value of individuals (and in particular, those with disabilities) in our society, and whose needs come first...

The link in the post title connects to a blog written by the parents of Ashley, explaining their perspective and feelings. Some other sites of potential interest include the following:

Times Online Article

CTV article

CNN article

As well as NUMEROUS blog entries addressing the issue...

For my own part, I need time to read and digest it all before making comment - but I thought I would post this to solicit opinions and reflections from others in the meantime...

Stay tuned....


Richard said...

There's nothing about this story that doesn't make me feel icky on the inside; and I'd been avoiding it. But, educated and informed opinions are always much more edifying than my own, and I'm curious to read yours, so here's mine.


Things that make me really uncomfortable about this story:

- Most 'damaged' fetuses are now aborted. I don't know if Ashley's condition was detectable in the womb, but I'm not sure if I support a system where we abort life just because it will be less than perfect. But what do we then do with that life? What rights and qualities is it entitled to?

- I don't know how I feel about a world where parents are fit to decide what surgery will be life saving for their children, even when it borders on the horrific. At what point am I correct in seeing creepy parallels between what was done to Ashley and female circumcision as practiced in Africa?

- Is this story a symptom of children increasingly being designer products? Adopt your Indonesian today, and get a free alligator purse? Even terming her a "pillow-angel" just seems so product oriented.

- How did the doctors feel ethically comfortable doing this surgery? How did the board of ethics feel comfortable allowing this? To raise my favourite rhetorical device (reductio ad hitlerum) why exactly did the scientific community come up with standards on how humans were to be treated post 1945? What is our definition of human?

I raise this last one with a small tone of bitterness because U of T ethics has required my girlfriend get signed consent forms from magic-show audiences before documenting their reactions for her anthropology paper. But, the hospital says it's okay to hack up this other woman.

But finally, I don't like this, and I don't want to deal with it, because I don't have better answers than what the parents are doing. The best one I have, is this is exactly why Spartan's left kids on Mt. Taegetus over-night: and I don't view myself as having that level of coldness. Though, the fact that I can detach myself enough from my emotions to say "hey, this is how the Spartan's solved it" means it's in me.

But, if we're going to support keeping Ashley alive, if we're going to acknowledge she has no hope of life as we value it in adults, if we're going to burden the spiritual and real cost of keeping her alive entirely on her parents... then, yeah, she's their little pet, and they can do as they please.

I'm not sure I can say normal human standards can still apply to her.

Well, there's the scrapings off my soul Aesclepius. And having purged it, I can say there's nothing about writing the above that a long session curled in fetal position in my shower won't make me feel better about.

Your turn.

Bladerunner said...

Pretty emotional subject for sure. This being my field of work - I am inclined to say that what the parents did is WRONG. Same as the gal in Saskatchewan who was gassed by her dad to put her out of her 'apparent misery'. Parents acting like God is not a good thing.

Cameron said...

I share much of Richard's disgust at this procedure and topic. Here's my two cents worth;

Who in their right mind would volunteer themselves for this treatment?


So why would we volunteer someone not in their right mind to undergo it?

Because it makes things easier for her parents? Why is that a consideration at all? I feel for her parents at the burden they carry, but surgically altering their retarded daughter to make her more 'manageable' isn't an answer.

The fact is that no matter how I consider this case the procedure is grotesque and abhorrent, but it is made even more so because it is being requested by her parents, the very people who are supposed to be protecting her interests, are the very ones who seek abrogate them.

Perhaps after her treatment is completed, they can request she be fitted with tungsten 'handles' to make moving her around easier. Or, perhaps, we should remove her lower jaw entirely so that we might feed her without spilling? Indeed, perhaps we should consider surgically blinding her to lower the incident rate of acting up.

I'm having trouble even satirizing this monstrosity appropriately, and I doubt my outrage will fade any time soon.

Jefe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jefe said...

There is certainly nothing optimistic about "The Ashley Treatment". Its a shame that should the child undergo such radical alteration for the sake of convenience, should a new technique, medical revolution or treatment result in what amounts to a cure, the child will 'awake' to find herself irreparably altered by her parents.

As someone who has ongoing experience with a sibling of special needs, I find the whole procedure to be questionable at best.