A lot of regular JA.O readers may be already aware of this story, as it is all over the blogosphere and has been discussed on Catholic radio. It poses a number of conundrums and ethical snares concerning the proper medical care of disabled people, elective surgery, and other issues.
According to THIS MSNBC ARTICLE, a young girl named Ashley has undergone surgery, hormone treatment and other medical procedures in order to retard her growth – keep her at her present size and weight – so that caring for her will be easier.
In a case fraught with ethical questions, the parents of a severely mentally and physically disabled child have stunted her growth to keep their little “pillow angel” a manageable and more portable size.
The bedridden 9-year-old girl had her uterus and breast tissue removed at a Seattle hospital and received large doses of hormones to halt her growth. She is now 4-foot-5; her parents say she would otherwise probably reach a normal 5-foot-6.
Now, I’m not an expert in anything, so I don’t feel the need to do a whole boatload of commentary on this. I think the ethical concerns are obvious enough to anyone. I would like to see some thoughtful combox rumination on this (hopefully with the input of some medical professionals, students and ethicists), while avoiding the immediate consigning of the parents to an especially toasty corner of Hell in a knee-jerk fashion. Keep in mind that there are many parents who struggle with the issues of caring for their disabled children , even as these children become disabled adults. Keep your dog on a leash, is what I’m sayin’, and talk about the issues, rather than making personal attacks.
My first response to this story was to think about how many times my wife and I, as we watched our little ones sleeping or doing something especially endearing, wished out loud (mostly kidding) that we could "put a brick on their head" and keep them that age forever. Just stop time and keep our babies forever. It’s an impulse I’m sure we share with a lot of parents.
But that is not what kids are made for. Certainly MY OWN kids would be easier to care for if we had somehow halted their growth. Alzheimer’s patients would be less worrisome if we surgically made them all paraplegics. They could not wander off and become a danger to themselves and others, that way.
Another thought (and this is complete speculation) that occurred to me was the possibility that the parents, subconsciously, may fear that caring for their child will be more challenging as she grows, not because she will no longer be small and light, but because she will no longer be cute, cuddly and sympathetic. There can be a certain tenderness, sweetness and even playfulness in changing a baby’s diaper. The experience of changing the diaper of a fully-grown adult is rather short on rewards, unless one possesses a particularly mature and compassionate spirituality. I am not saying this is the case with Ashley’s parents, but the thought does occur that perhaps the greatest issues may be emotional and mental, rather than physical.
Just some thoughts.