Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Altering our children for convenience

I'll be honest. I'm an opinionated sort of person. Rarely do I come across an ethical issue which confounds me- by and large, my innate sense of right and wrong comes through loudly, and clearly.

So when I read about the girl who will never grow up, my first instinct was horror. How could a parent do that to their child? Certainly, she'll be easier to lift, bathe, feed, and dress in the body of a six year old rather than a fully grown woman. And that might keep her at home, and out of an institution, longer. In the care of her parents, and not strangers.

I discounted the idea that keeping her from growing breasts will prevent rape; that is so much nonsense. There are scores of children the world over who've been sexually assaulted. Cutting out her uterus? Well, she wasn't going to be using it, I suppose. And that definitely won't prevent rape, but it would prevent a pregnancy. And lord knows her caretakers have enough responsibility without dealing with a future pregnancy anyway.

But it didn't sit well with me, the idea of carving off "unnecessary" bits on a human being.

But I've been thinking about it, and I find myself, if not fully endorsing, then at least Understanding, their choice. I tried putting myself in the girl's position (a decidedly uncomfortable task) and tried to imagine what it would be like.

Imagine the intellect and comprehension of an infant; or even that of a very young child. Then imagine the body undergoes puberty. What would that be like? How frightening might it become?

It's not that hard for me to imagine, actually. Precocious puberty is defined in females as early onset of menses. For me, this horror struck at age eight. It came coupled with b-cup breasts and, in short order, height greater than the tallest boys in my school. Back in the seventies, no one called this a medical disorder. You just "Bloomed Early." And the physical and psychological effects were not discussed nor commonly understood.

Today that would be a treatable disorder. Puberty may be staved off to a more developmentally desirable time. I cannot blame my mother; she did the best she could with what she knew. There was no option of stalling the clock for me. But what if there had been? Would I have been better or worse off? I might have eliminated some of the terrors of my own childhood- the embarrassment, the teasing, the unwanted male attention in gradeschool. I might not have tried to stuff my breasts into my armpits and I might not have walked slump-shouldered to appear shorter. But I cannot actually KNOW that I would have turned out any healthier, or been more welcoming of menses at a later date. I might have hated my boobs and dreaded my periods anyway. Plenty of women do.

But I think of that fear and uncertainty- the worry that I was bleeding to death. The sudden clumsiness that came with a radically altered center of gravity. The disbelief and disgust when the biological purpose behind all these changes was made clear to me. ("THAT's how you make babies? Ugh. Gross!")And I can ask myself, if that was a traumatic thing to go through as a bright, healthy third-grader- how much worse would it be for someone with the mind of a baby? To suffer the menstrual cramps and indignity each month, for no earthy reason?

This poor girl is never going to marry or become a mother. She will never have intelligence enough to consent to anything. She will remain a happy, burbling infant, but now she'll be travel-sized for her parents' convenience.

Perhaps that last was uncalled for. But it does express my own murky feelings on the subject. I understand why they did it. I can even argue their point logically. But emotionally? It doesn't sit well. It feels dirty to even think that way, to think about making those kinds of very permanent decisions for another human being, even if it were my own child.

Because I have to wonder... if it's okay to shrink your mentally disabled child so you can always lift her, how far away is it to consider altering other aspects of biology in order to make your child easier to handle? We've already got mass dopings for difficult kids. We make them sit still, make them cooperate... when will we start making them prettier? Smaller? Bigger? Thinner?

And I worry. Because if you'd asked me at age nine, I'd have agreed to anything to keep from reaching this height. I once went to my mother to ask if anyone in this country practiced feet-binding. I was hoping to prevent my own (inevitable) growth into a size eleven shoe. What if my mother had encouraged me? What if she had allowed that? Is mutilation for acceptance that much of a stretch from mutilation for accessibility?

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