“The Legal Politics of Growth Attenuation”

In a new law journal article, University of Ottawa law professor Ravi Maoltra asserts that growth attenuation procedures violate Canadian and international law and that their proponents base their arguments on outdated views of disability rights.

This graphic has the phrase Ashley's Treatment the treatment crossed out and replaced with the word "rights"
Ashley’s Rights

These procedures made international news in 2007 with the case of Ashley X, which sparked a debate between individuals with disabilities, philosophers, doctors, lawyers and others over the proper balance parental rights and the fundamental rights of children with disabilities. That year, a Seattle-area couple had their 9-year-old child, Ashley, undergo a surgery that consisted of hormone doses and the removal of Ashley’s uterus and breast buds.

Disability Rights Washington conducted an investigation into the procedures and later reached an agreement with the Seattle Children’s Hospital to create a variety of safeguards in case the issue arises again. DRW released another report in 2012, calling on Congress to ban Ashley Treatment.

“While Ashley is certainly unlikely to ever parent, we can only note that such thinking has disturbing equality rights implications for both those individuals who are parenting with severe physical disabilities and those parents with milder intellectual impairments. This is dangerously close to endorsing a philosophy of eugenics,” Maoltra states in the article.

In the journal article, Maoltra argues that the impetus for Ashley’s Treatment is based on a medical model of disability, which views disability as a problem to be fixed, as opposed to the social model, which views disability as a social construct and social barriers as the main obstacles limiting opportunities for people with disabilities.

Maoltra also analyzes Ashley X through a feminist perspective, particularly the statements of Ashley’s parents, who partly defended the treatment on the grounds they did not think it was appropriate for a person with such low mental capacity to develop sexually.

“Girls and women with disabilities who have been sterilized are generally unable to conform to a proper gender performance, and in light of their various disabilities are not expected to do so,” Maoltra states. “They are either “punished” by having their bodies altered, or they are denied possession of a sexed body as their existing bodies cannot be used for the “appropriate” performance. In the end, Ashley and other disabled individuals are left with no sex, sexuality, and no claim to socially constructed genders.”

Though no Ashley’s Treatment cases are known to have been performed, Maoltra analyzes similar Canadian case law and comes to the conclusion that the procedures violates Section 7, the right to bodily integrity, and Section 15, the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Maoltra also argues that the procedures violate various provisions under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.