March 17, 2012

The "Ashley Treatment" five years later

Five years after the advent of the Ashley Treatment, Peter Singer chimes in and provides a review of the procedure which now impacts the lives of over a hundred severely disabled children:
Today, Ashley is 14. Her mental condition has not changed, but her size and weight have remained that of a nine-year-old. Her father remains convinced that he and his wife made the right decision for Ashley, and that the treatment made her more likely to be comfortable, healthy and happy. He describes her as "completely loved" and her life "as good as we can possibly make it". There seem to be no grounds for holding the opinion that the treatment was not in Ashley's best interests.

As for the claim that it was unnatural, well, in one sense all medical treatment is unnatural; it enables us to live longer, and in better health, than we naturally would. Perhaps the most "natural" thing for Ashley's parents to do with their severely disabled daughter would have been to abandon her to the wolves and vultures, as parents have done with such children for most of human existence. Fortunately, we have evolved beyond such "natural" practices, which are abhorrent to civilised people. The issue of treating Ashley with dignity was never, in my view, a genuine one. Infants are adorable, but not dignified, and the same is true of older and larger human beings who remain at the mental level of an infant. You don't acquire dignity just by being born a member of the species Homo sapiens.

What of the slippery slope argument? The Guardian has found 12 families that have used the "Ashley treatment" and believes more than 100 children may have been administered with hormones to keep them small. The fact that a few other families are using the treatment, however, does not show there has been any descent down a slope. Take the cases of "Tom" and "Erica," two other severely intellectually disabled children who have been given similar treatment to Ashley. Their mothers are convinced that the treatment has enabled their children to live happier lives, and are grateful to Ashley's father for being open about how they are coping with Ashley's disability.
It's worth noting that my article, Helping Families Care for the Helpless, was the first published defense of the Ashley Treatment.

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