There was an article in the Seattle P-I last night about a young girl named Ashley who is undergoing a treatment dubbed the “Ashley Treatment.” According to her family’s blog , she has a condition called “‘static encephalopathy of unknown etiology’, which means an insult to the brain of unknown origin or cause, and one that will not improve.” She is now nine years old, and would have been expected to attain adult height and size. She “cannot keep her head up, roll or change her sleeping position, hold a toy, or sit up by herself, let alone walk or talk. She is tube fed and depends on her caregivers in every way.” She will never develop mentally or cognitively beyond three months of age, but is expected to have a normal life span.
She has become the first person like her to have the treatment the family’s blog describes below:
The “Ashley Treatment” … includes growth attenuation through high-dose estrogen therapy, hysterectomy to eliminate the menstrual cycle and associated discomfort to Ashley, and breast bud removal to avoid the development of large breasts and the associated discomfort to Ashley.
The family’s reasoning was as follows:
A fundamental and universal misconception about the treatment is that it is intended to convenience the caregiver; rather, the central purpose is to improve Ashley’s quality of life. Ashley’s biggest challenges are discomfort and boredom; all other considerations in this discussion take a back seat to these central challenges. The “Ashley Treatment” goes right to the heart of these challenges and we strongly believe that it will mitigate them in a significant way and provide Ashley with lifelong benefits.
The family goes on to say that these treatments will allow Ashley to remain a size which enables them to hold her, take her with them many places, carry her, and bathe her easily (4’5″, 75 pounds). They believe it will reduce the chance that she will be sexually assaulted by caregivers and will eliminate the pain and difficulties of menstruation. She began to develop signs of puberty at six years of age, which is when the family worked with doctors to begin the treatment. The family intends to care for her at home always, and says she would have been cared for at home always regardless her size, but that being small will give her options she wouldn’t have had had she grown to full adult size. It sounds to me as though this is a Christian family; if I were a betting woman, based on the way they say what they say about God, and based on their reliance on doctors and traditional medicine, I’d say they were Roman Catholic. They seem to be devout Christians.
For my part, I think this is horrifying. It is particularly odious to me that the parents felt the need to remove Ashley’s breasts (because she didn’t “need” them) and her uterus (ditto), and that fear of their daughter being molested by caregivers figured heavily into their decision.
What have we come to that we will remove a young woman’s breasts and reproductive organs to increase the likelihood she will not be abused by “caregivers”? What have we come to that we think removing breasts and reproductive organs will keep any child or any woman safer from sexual assault? How is it that the belief is, it’s the breasts and the body which invite the abuse, as opposed to the misogyny and depravity of anyone who would sexually abuse anyone, but particularly a vulnerable, disabled girl or woman? How is it forgotten that babies are sexually abused, toddlers are, small children are, little boys, little girls, all the way through old women, all the way through animals, all the way through corpses, are sexually abused, and in these assaults, the presence of breasts, or not, or uteruses, or not, or human bodies or not, or living bodies, or not, matters not one whit. Why aren’t we insisting that caregivers not be sexually predatory? Why aren’t we insisting that no one should ever be sexually abused again, and donating ALL of our available resources to that end?
How is it that if a girl isn’t going to breastfeed she doesn’t “need” her breasts? Who says? How is it that if a woman isn’t going to bear children, she doesn’t “need” her uterus? Who says? Since when are breasts only about breastfeeding and uteruses only about babies, to the point that we will cut a girl or woman up in repeated major surgeries if she’s not going to be doing either? Without asking her? If any of us were asked whether we’d be up for having our breasts cut off and our uteruses cut out because we won’t be using them anyway, what would we say?
What if we could ask Ashley what she would say? And understand her response? Would a nine-year-old agree to these irreversible, life-changing procedures? On what basis do her parents, or her doctors, make that decision for her, if not?
Here’s what stands out to me, though:
The objection that this treatment interferes with nature is one of the most ridiculous objections of all; medicine is all about interfering with nature.
Herein lies our problem. Here the family makes a point that, because of our failures to think and act in ways which are feminist and woman-centered, in ways which value women’s lives and bodies, we have no good answer for. As the family points out, we have come to a point in history where not only is it considered foolish to even consider “nature,” doctors, psychologists, scientists, drug companies, geneticists, regularly, recklessly disregard “nature” in favor of surgeries, hormone treatments, invasive procedures, experiments, “treatments” of all kinds, without a clue as to how those who are beng “treated” might actually fare in the future, without any consideration as to what this might mean for girls and women. They do what they do because they can. There is no one to stop them. Especially not feminists.
What is going to be the objection we raise now, as feminists, to this treatment, given that as a movement, we have not been objecting to the anti-woman abuses of patriarchal medicine, science, and psychology all along? Now that, as feminists, we’ve consistently ignored the abuses of procedures like hysterectomies (done needlessly most or much of the time), c-sections (ditto), mastectomies (ditto), now that feminists have offered defenses of in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, hormone treatments, invasive, dangerous reproductive technologies of all kinds, now that feminists have defended the donating of eggs, now that feminists have defended sexual reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments and cosmetic surgeries and gastric bypasses– not all of us, it’s true, I sure haven’t, this has been my soapbox for years, but most feminists have — well… what’s our basis going to be for objecting to this procedure? Or any similar procedure?
Based on what I’ve read on feminist and progressive blogs so far, most feminists don’t have any feminist or woman-centered basis for objecting to this procedure, not really. Some arguments about slippery slopes. Some arguments against objectification of the disabled. Not much more, that I saw.
We needed, as a movement, to be objecting to the invasive, misogynist procedures of patriarchal medicine, in unison, loudly, years and years ago, decades ago. Some of us were, have been and did, and have been roundly trounced for it, including by feminists and progressives.
This is the result. One of many, I am very sure, similar results to come.