The Problems with the Ashley Treatment

Content Warning for forced sterilization, forced childhood, and mention of sex and sex abuse

Not a lot of things make me angry enough to blog anymore.

Well, apparently, the Ashley Treatment still does.

The Ashley Treatment is a “treatment” where a disabled child is forced to remain in a child’s body forever for the convenience of the parents. They’re made to stay small so that they can be managed easier by full-sized adults, and they’re sterilized and never allowed to go through puberty. It’s being considered in Oregon.

Let me spell out why this is gross. First, adults don’t belong in children’s bodies. No, not even disabled adults, because “disabled” doesn’t cancel out “adult”. Adults simply are not children, regardless of how profoundly disabled their minds or bodies are.

But it goes beyond the basic morality of not forcing an adult to look like a child. What the Ashley Treatment does is it takes away the person’s chance to go through life like everyone else does. Thing like the “pain” of puberty are a part of life that all people are entitled to (this doesn’t really conflict with transgender rights, by the way– just put “the correct” in front of puberty).

It might sound kind to take the possibility of pain away from someone whom you don’t think could comprehend it, but what you’re doing isn’t sparing them. It’s robbing them of what makes life, life. Life is a roller coaster of pain and pleasure, of happiness and sadness. If you take the pain and sadness out of their life, there’s nothing to contrast the happiness with. It leaves life horribly one dimensional.

Now, you might be thinking “well I don’t think the girl in question has the capacity to understand that her life in one-dimensional.” Here’s the thing about that, beyond that it makes me want to spit venom: You don’t know.

There are four possibilities here, two of which I don’t even want to entertain, but I will because this is my “hold hands and be nice” blog.

  1. She can’t comprehend losing part of her life, and this process is done to her, and mentally she technically doesn’t suffer.
  2. She can’t comprehend losing part of her life, and the process isn’t done, and the only person who suffers is the parents who suddenly have to change adult diapers.
  3. She can comprehend losing part of her life, and the process isn’t done, and so she goes on enjoying life the way life is meant to be lived.
  4. She can comprehend losing part of her life, and the process is done, and suddenly you’ve irrevocably taken something away from someone who wasn’t able to stop you.

Tell me what the worst case scenario there is.

Yeah, it’s number four. It’s certainly not number two. But let me talk about why it’s number four first. The thing is, we don’t technically know if she would be mindful that something like this was done to her. We can’t obtain her consent. But when you can’t obtain someone’s consent, the answer isn’t “ask someone else.” The answer is a hard “NO,” unless we’re talking a life-saving procedure. We’re not. We’re talking about a procedure to make things easier and more palatable on the parents. With that, let me talk about why it’s not number two.

Parenthood is not for parents. Parenthood is not about parents. Parenthood is and always should be for the benefit of the children, because regardless how profound the disabilities your child comes out with, you chose to create them. You now owe it to your child to have their best interests in mind. You owe it to your child to care the most about what will allow them to lead the most enriched life possible.

You should not get to take your child’s life and alter it for your convenience. Which, really, is the point of making an child never grow up– convenience. Though, as I mentioned, it’s also about making a child’s life more easily digestible.

That’s the point of taking away a female child’s breast buds and uterus. Though I’ll insist that breasts are not inherently sexual, that’s neither here nor there, as that’s how they’re perceived by most of the society dictating that a disabled girl’s breasts should be removed. This has to be about reducing how adult an adult looks, and by extension how culturally sexual an adult looks. Breast growth just doesn’t hurt enough that breasts can be justifiably removed with that in mind. But  reducing how “sexual” a disabled adult offspring looks is, to some people, a good enough reason.

Parents are often grossed out by the thought of their children having sex as adults. Society is often grossed out by the thought of disabled people having sex. Put those together, and you have the parents of disabled people being disgusted by the thought of their children growing up to be sexual. And so, parents do what they can to keep their adult children un-sexual.

This is another issue of consent, one that is jumbled up with other issues of consent. Parents might argue, “my child won’t be aware enough as an adult to consent to sex.” That might be a good point. But if they can’t consent to sex, they also can’t consent to you taking their ability to be sexual away from them (ignoring here that breasts and a uterus are not necessary for actually engaging in sexual activity, just necessary for looking the part of “adult who can have sex”).

Beyond that, there’s actually nothing wrong with sexual activity between consenting adults, or involving just one adult, even if said adult is disabled. Sex and choosing whether or not to partake in it is a part of the human experience, and everyone– everyone– deserves the right to make the most informed decision that they can according to their mental capacities.

What a profoundly intellectually disabled adult’s decision process looks like might differ from that of a non-disabled adult, and it would almost definitely benefit from the guidance of a third-party with their best interests in mind, but that doesn’t make it less valid. As an example, I could see two intellectually disabled adults being able to engage in sexual activity together with entirely valid consent. Between an intellectually disabled and non-disabled adult there would probably be issues with power differentials, though.

While we’re on the subject of sex and consent, I would be wrong to fail to mention that making an adult small and light makes it that much easier for abusers to abuse them. I sincerely hope that this requires no explanation.

So really, it is the polar opposite of ethical to do this to a person. You rob them of intrinsic aspects of their life, and you ignore their bodily autonomy to override their consent, and you put them at risk for abuse. All in the name of parents having an easier time. All in the name of convenience.

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