Friday, January 05, 2007


I've started several posts about the story of a girl named Ashley with severe mental and physical disabilities, whose parents are electing to have her reproductive organs removed and her hormones modulated so that she will never progress to puberty. I've started posts, but really articulating my feelings has been difficult. The best post I've seen so far has been by Wheelchair Dancer, so check it out.

Still, I am so viscerally appalled, I'd like to get my feelings out there. Wheelchair Dancer titles her post simply "human rights," because that's exactly what is being denied of this girl. A commenter at brownfemipower's place (where I first found out about this) dug up this message board quote by a medical ethicist regarding Ashley's impending procedures:
If the concern has something to do with the girl’s dignity being violated, then I have to protest by arguing that the girl lacks the cognitive capacity to experience any sense of indignity. Nor do I believe this is somehow demeaning or undignified to humanity in general; the treatments will endow her with a body that more closely matches her cognitive state – both in terms of her physical size and bodily functioning. The estrogen treatment is not what is grotesque here. Rather, it is the prospect of having a full-grown and fertile woman endowed with the mind of a baby.
The guy has really laid his cards on the table here: he doesn't think she's human. If there is anything that defines being human, it is dignity. This commenter doesn't even think she has the capability for dignity. She is "grotesque" in her disabled - different - state, and some ambiguous squicky feeling entitles someone to pick up a scalpel?!

Then, there's the women-as-fucktoy aspect, where they will take from her body perfectly healthy organs because she isn't going to use them for reproduction - because they won't be of any (healthy) use to anyone other than herself. The lame excuses about removing her breasts for her own comfort are mind-bogglingly stupid: why not just remove her arms and legs too? Why not just murder her?

And how do they know she's not "using" her sexual organs? She cannot move, and she cannot consent to sexual contact, but as Wheelchair Dancer says:
Sexual pleasure is natural. Kids don't have and don't need the full intellectual apparatus of sexuality to know that if you touch here, the feeling is good. Why shouldn't Ashley have that feeling? I am not suggesting that anyone touch her in that way -- explicitly sexual touch without full and free consent is not acceptable. But if Ashley can feel pleasure in the way her clothes fit her or in the movement of her clothes or her body, why shouldn't she? To take both her, at this point in her life, healthy breasts and uterus to avoid the possible pain of cramping and other menstruation related difficulties or disabled life-related difficulties is incomprehensible to me.

I can understand freely-chosen body modification as an expression of oneself, or even for simple comfort or pleasure. What I cannot comprehend is the severe and painful modification of someone who cannot consent to it. I realize that her family does not intend to be selfish here, and that the lack of clear communication means that they must make inferences and even guesses as to what will best fulfill her needs and wants. How those serious considerations lead to cutting open her body and taking her apart piece by piece is what I can't begin to understand.

For some better-informed (and, all-around better) perspective on the dignity and integrity of the disabled body, see also this post by ballastexistenz, an autistic woman with a hell of an axe to grind. Good conversations are shaping up at Alas, A Blog and Woman of Color Blog.
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