Stunting the Growth of a Mentally Disabled Child—Is It Moral?


Physicians have treated a 9-year-old girl, who is severely mentally disabled, by removing her uterus and injecting her with estrogen in order to stunt her growth . The girl, Ashley, is unable to talk, walk, lift her head, clean or feed herself. Her mental development is perpetually stuck at 3 months of age. The stunting was done at the request of her parents who argue that keeping her small means they can more easily care for her at home.

Naturally, this decision has provoked some bioethical handwringing. Uber-bioethicist, Arthur Caplan, at the University of Pennsylvania argues :

"Keeping Ashley small is a pharmacological solution for a social failure — the fact that American society does not do what it should to help severely disabled children and their families."

Actually, we don't know how much help Ashley's family has received from their church, local charities, or even government social services. Even if the family was showered with such "help" as Caplan believes the rest of us should pay for, it is quite possible that they would come to the same conclusion about what is best for Ashley. Such tough decisions should remain in the hands of parents. For what it's worth, based on the evidence I've seen, I think they made the right decision. 

Ashley's parents make their case here. Photos of Ashley here.