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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Growth Attenuation and the Law

A number of articles about the growth attenuation and Ashley X have been published that discuss the case from a legal perspective. I find these articles heavy going. None have impressed me and many seem to be authored by law students who latched onto a hot button issue. I will readily admit I am not a lawyer nor do I have a thorough grasp of the technical legal issues involved in growth attenuation. However it is my hope that the WPAS remains committed to protecting the rights of children such as Ashley and all others with a disability. I would think it is in the best interest of the WPAS and Seattle Children's Hospital to continue to work together since they reached an agreement. I am equally sure the WPAS nor Seattle Children's Hospital wants to see Washington State law is not violated again. One Ashley X from my perspective was too many. I do have cause for concern after reading a letter written by Jeffrey M. Sconyers, the lawyer that represents the hospital in the Ashley case. The letter I refer to was published in response to the Hastings Center Report written by the Seattle Growth Attenuation and Ethics Working Group (I have already delved into these findings).

Sconyers makes one factual correction to the Hastings Center Report. Sconyers notes Seattle Children's Hospital did not "agree to obtain a court order prior to any future medical intervention to attenuate growth in children with developmental disabilities". Rather Sconyers states "we agreed that we would not provide such intervention unless we had received a valid order from a court of competent jurisdiction, not subject to appeal, authorizing such intervention in a given specific case". Sconyers argues there is a difference. He wrote: "We recognized that as a hospital that stood to benefit financially from approval of growth attenuation treatment, we had an irreducible conflict of interest that made it improper for the hospital to seek court approval for the care. That responsibility rests with the parents or legal guardians of the child whose growth may be limited, not the hospital."

Let's not mince words here: the hospital is passing the buck. They passed the buck in the past and are doing so again. The hospital admitted error in the past, an error that cannot ever be corrected. Illegal treatment, illegal surgery, took place. Who was to blame? The hospital and the bad legal advice Ashley parents received. The victim was a little girl. Now we are being told by the hospital attorney that it is in the hands of the court. They have an "irreducible conflict of interest". The skeptic in me wants to note why they ignored this fact originally only to see it clearly today. Leaving that aside, do we really trust the courts to protect the rights of children like Ashley from the interests of their own parents? Need I detail the myriad of ways the court has failed people with a disability in the past. I suggest if you think i am biased read the work of Lenny Davis and the legal term "bending over backwards". In short, I have absolutely no faith in the court. Remove all the rhetoric that has surrounded Ashley X and the ethics of growth attenuation and it boils down to one thing for me: we as a society cannot target one population and absolve ourselves of a human rights violation. It is not about dignity, self interested parents, or doctors trying to help one little girl and her family. It is a clear case of bias, bias in which a specific population is considered somehow not fully human. The implications of this are sobering and dangerous.