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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Ashley Treatment Yet Again

Readers that have followed this blog for a while know that I continue to keep up to date on the Ashley Treatment. I read as much as I can and try to keep abreast of any new developments. I do this because I remain deeply troubled by the larger implications of the Ashley Treatment, now referred to as growth attenuation by doctors. The change from the simple and easy to google Ashley Treatment to growth attenuation is not a matter of semantics. To me, this is a way for those that have relentlessly pushed this so-called treatment as a viable option to avoid publicity. Frankly, given the hysterical reaction by the mainstream media to the Ashley Treatment I cannot blame them too much. Nothing good came from the media's pack mentality when the story broke in 2007. The doctors that advocated for the Ashley Treatment came across as arrogant and stuck their proverbial foot in their mouths multiple times. Disability activists were unable to articulate why the Ashley Treatment was so dangerous and were quickly type cast as stereotypically angry. Utterly lost in the furor was any nuanced discussion. Sadly, not much has changed and I remain distressed because I have just finished reading an article scheduled to appear in the American Journal of Bioethics entitled "Ashley Revisited: A Response to Critics" by Douglas Diekema and Norman Fost.

Let me be clear: the essay by Diekema and Fost is dreadful--unworthy of publication in any respected academic journal. I have submitted an abstract for an Open Peer Commentary in AJOB that is ever so polite. I gritted my teeth when submitting the abstract but doubt I will be asked to submit a commentary between 500 and 1500 words. My words here will not be nice or polite. For I know the pesky words of this and any other bad cripple are surely unwanted. The supposed aim of Diekema and Fost was to catalogue critical commentary "for the purpose of evaluating them. In doing so, we hope to facilitate a substantive discussion on the issues raised by the Ashley case that goes beyond assertions, over simplifications, opinion and emotion." Diekema and Fost identify 25 objections and break them up into different groups. This sounds great but the results are less than satisfactory to say the least. The authors write like petulant children angry with their parents for sending them to bed without dessert. How dare people object to the Ashley Treatment! We listened to the pleas emanating from the lips of Ashley's loving parents and devised a treatment for her benefit. No critics have formulated an argument that will deter us from helping Ashley and other children like her. This intervention must proceed because we know this is the one and only answer. This sort of knowledge, so certain, so sure, is not possible and if assumed to be true down rights dangerous. If you doubt me think Eugenics in this country, an approach approved by none other than the Supreme Court.

I find the authors obvious outrage and approach to critics ironic in that they have assembled many different phrases from a host of publications that are devoid of substance. Any and all criticism is dismissed and is based on an emotional argument, rhetoric, distortion, confusion, or politics. Take your pick critics are wrong, wrong, wrong. This is not scholarship but rather an effort to silence the overwhelming number of people inside and outside of medicine that object to the Ashley Treatment. To accomplish this the authors have assembled a long list of objections that appear to be power point driven or a collection of notes. Slide one, objection one reduced to a single line. Four subsequent points are made in less than a page. If a graduate student submitted this sort of paper to me I would give it a failing grade or tell him/her to write a real paper.

Let me provide one specific example of where the authors went terribly wrong and are misleading. Before I do this I want to note that this example does not concern the authors dismissal of my article published in Counter Punch or the way they reduced what I argued to a single phrase. Under "Objection 19" the authors list "Disability rights activists disagree" with the interventions in the Ashley Case. They authors identify four flaws made by disability activists and dismiss any notion the Ashley Treatment as morally wrong. The authors think disability activists are driven by an ideological argument and that advocacy groups do not in any way represent the parents or best interests of Ashley. Moreover, such argument are made by people with physical or moderate cognitive disabilities and are totally different from Ashley. For some this may pass as reasoned analysis but scratch the surface and profound flaws emerge. The authors write "several disability rights groups" opposed the Ashley Treatment and list five examples. A quick look on line reveals that more than "several" groups opposed the Ashley Treatment. I quickly came up with a list of over 150 disability groups that opposed the Ashley Treatment. This list includes at least one group from every state in America, every Canadian province, and countries such as England, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Belgium, China, Korea, Norway, Poland and the list goes on and on. Surely one of these groups not to mention the hundreds of people that wrote articles, blogs, and commentaries that were published from a "disability rights" perspective made one or two good points. In short, a disability perspective is dismissed out of hand and the bibliography contains a dearth of source material from such a viewpoint. This is not just faulty reasoning but terrible and misleading scholarship.

What I find most troubling about the article by Diekema and Fost is their arrogance. The paper in question may state they seek to engage the critics of the Ashley Treatment but reality as they present it is something entirely different. There is no willingness to acknowledge much less negotiate differences of opinion. The Ashley Treatment is a viable treatment option. No argument presented can sway the authors from their beliefs. The single minded determination they display is, I hope, out of the norm. It certainly does not reflect my experience with the medical establishment. I have found most doctors that propose controversial treatment options to be critically attuned to any and all objections. And this what strikes me as so unusual about the Ashley Treatment. Diekema and Fost are not willing to listen to any reasoned objection regardless of where it comes from. They are right and all critics are wrong. Life is not that absolute and certainly no medical treatment as controversial as the Ashley Treatment lends itself to a black and white view of the world.


Single Dad / Disabled Daughter said...

Have you seen this response to Ashley's father's statement on the treatment?

william Peace said...

The, Yes, I saw the link provided. I suspect the slide was created by Ashley's parents as part of their presentation to the ethics committee in Seattle. Their line of reasoning was profoundly flawed for reasons stated in the link and well beyond.

Matthew Smith said...

I suspect that testicles are not removed because the male doctors know how much their testicles mean to them! Female reproductive organs are perceived as internal organs, much like kidneys, which can be pulled out if they're deemed to be trouble. Of course, males don't get periods or PMT, but boys grow bigger than girls and we all know how aggressive some of us males are.

The "Ashley treatment" raises problems on so many levels - it results in an unnaturally small adult, caregivers deal with woman-sized and woman-shaped mentally impaired women every day (I have dealt with a few myself, briefly, and none of them turned out to be man-eaters), and it clearly is being done for the convenience of the care-givers rather than any benefit to Ashley. From my own experience, I know that parents are very capable of justifying certain short-term harm in the name of uncertain long-term benefits, particularly if the course of action benefits them as well.