Bioethics Blogs

Ashley’s treatment: the arrested development of a disabled child

Intellectually disabled children who undergo the “Ashley procedure” are stunted to prevent the onset of puberty flickr/visions by vicky

A growing number of parents are seeking the “Ashley Treatment,” a highly experimental medical intervention designed to arrest the physical and sexual development of severely disabled children. This invasive medical procedure is named after the girl on whom it was first performed in 2004, when she just six years old.

The procedure entailed surgical sterilisation via hysterectomy, breast bud removal to stop breast development and extensive hormone treatment to freeze the child’s physical and sexual development. Ashley may age in chronological years but her body will maintain the appearance, size and weight of a six-year-old for the rest of her life.

Her parents and the medical staff involved in the procedure argue it was essential for Ashley’s long-term well-being. They maintain that pregnancy, menstrual pain and uncomfortable breast formation were their primary concerns. Since the procedure, her parents have claimed Ashley’s quality of life has increased because it has made it easier for them to take care of her within the family home.

Interest in the “Ashley procedure” is growing. Although reported incidences are not large (between six and 12 currently), increasing numbers of parents are seeking the radical procedure so they can provide ongoing care for their disabled child within the family home.

What’s the problem?

Firstly, the procedure is both experimental and highly discriminatory, being intended exclusively for disabled children. If you can’t do it to non-disabled children why is it permissible for disabled children?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.