Five years later, advocates revisit the Ashley treatment

3/15/2012
Opinion/Editorial
David Carlson
Director of Resource Advocacy

Disability Rights Washington is producing a video about how people with disabilities interact with the medical system. This video is a follow-up to Disability Rights Washington’s first video released last month which focused on the harm continued budget cuts have caused for individuals with disabilities across the state.

The next video promises to be emotionally powerful and thought provoking.  In it, we will hear directly from numerous people with disabilities about their thoughts regarding medical interventions which limit their abilities to have children or otherwise develop naturally.

As detailed in a post on Disability Rights Washington’s internationally focused website, Disability Rights Galaxy, Disability Rights Washington has been working with the National Disability Rights Network to examine how the Ashley Treatment impacts the civil and human rights of children with disabilities.

The Ashley Treatment was a set of medical procedures used to keep a young Seattle girl named Ashley permanently small and prevent her from developing sexually.  The use of high doses of hormones, and removal of her breast buds and uterus, was publicized by Ashley’s parents and doctors as a means of limiting growth and development to keep children with similar needs safer and more easily cared for at home.

These procedures came under overwhelming criticism from people with disabilities and their allies and advocates. After an investigation, Disability Rights Washington determined the procedures violated Ashley’s rights.

In the time since the Ashley Treatment was made public, the conversation about the appropriateness of these procedures has continued. Unfortunately, most of the discussions have not included the opinions of people with intellectual disabilities, even though they are the ones at risk of such procedures.  Disability Rights Washington’s upcoming video changes that.

Disability Rights Washington has interviewed numerous people with disabilities and, in conjunction with the National Disability Rights Network, four groups of self advocates were convened for discussions in Seattle and Washington, D.C. about the Ashley Treatment and other instances where they disagree with medical professionals or family about what treatment they should receive.  The footage from these individual and group sessions is quite moving.

Disability Rights Washington is working on putting that footage into a format which will allow others to hear directly from people with disabilities, in the hope that it will open the eyes of people who do not know what it feels like to be ignored, discriminated against, and have every decision they make questioned and often undermined by those who are supposed to be there to help them.

If you have a story or opinion you would like to share relating to the Ashley Treatment, medical decision-making, family planning/parenting, or other important disability rights issues that you would like included in this video or future pieces forwarding the disability rights movement, please contact Andrea Kadlec at Disability Rights Washington.

Issues: 
Freedom from abuse and neglect