15 Oct 2007

Katie Thorpe

Last year we heard about what had been done to a little girl in the US. She was known as Ashley X, and she had been subjected to numerous extreme surgical and medical procedures. Many of us wrote about our horror at what had happened.

Now I read about a 15 year old English girl with cerebral palsy, called Katie Thorpe. Her mother, Alison, wants her to have a hysterectomy and explains why in the Times;

“We already have to do everyday things for Katie that most people do for themselves,” said Thorpe. “Katie has an undignified enough life without the added indignity of menstruation. She will not understand what is happening to her body and it could be very frightening for her.

“Katie would be totally confused by menstruation. She could not manage it by herself.

She could not keep it discreet, she cannot be private. What we need to do for Katie already is undignified enough.”

I think this is important; the reasons stated here do not in any way, justify a major surgical procedure, with a long recovery time, and life long after effects. I really fail to see why menstruation is considered such an indignity. In practical terms, it would be a few mls of blood once a month or so, added to the pad Katie already must wear.

It's evident from the numerous newspaper and TV interviews given my Alison Thorpe, many of which show photographs of Katie, that Katie has not started her periods yet, and there is no mention of a medical problem that would call for hysterectomy as a treatment. There is no reason to suspect that she will have painful periods, or if she has, that painkillers would not help. There are also other, much less radical and invasive approaches available in the event that Katie does has extremely painful periods. I don't think that any doctor would be wiling to perform this procedure when it appears to be medically unnecessary. At least I hope not.

There have been several references in the media to Katie's 'mental age', stated as 18 months in some articles, 6 months in another and 3 months in another. The Mail journalist writes;
She has no need for a womb. People would be horrified at the thought of a baby menstruating, but that is what Katie is. All she will know is further discomfort and confusion.

Whatever her cognitive functioning is, she is not a baby, she is a teenage girl. She has a right to bodily integrity, just like any other teenage girl according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

Article 17 - Protecting the integrity of the person

Every person with disabilities has a right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others.

From what I have read, most people giving their opinion, think that Katie's mother should have the right to decide. As a home-educator, I want minimal interference from the state in my duties to raise and educate my children, in accordance with the law and my personal philosophy. Parents have the right to make judgments for their children, and the state must presume that parents know best. It's an 'innocent until proven guilty' thing. However, when it is clear that a parent is not doing the right thing, like failing or neglecting their child, then the state has a duty to step in and make inquires and if warranted, take action. Likewise, if a parent decides that they want their child to have a totally unnecessary surgery, the state has a duty to that child, not to give the parent authority to allow it to happen. That the child is disabled should be irrelevant. Parents sometimes are wrong no matter how much they love their child.

1 comment:

Allie said...

I understand people's reluctance to be seen to 'know better' than this child's mother. I think that's why there are relatively few comments that express concern, on message boards etc. It is, of course, a profoundly personal and private thing for the world to be discussing. I wouldn't want people discussing my daughter's body in this way. But, decisions made in this case could affect any of us in the future.

I have to confess to being mystified by this parent's wish to see surgery performed on her daughter. As you say, if your child needs pads to deal with other bodily functions, what is the difference with menstruation? Is having help with menstruation inherently more undignified than other things? Why?

A hysterectomy is major surgery, involving risk (including risk of death) and the need for considerable pain relief afterwards. Why assume that period pain is going to be so bad that it justifies the pain of surgery?

There must be millions of women, worldwide, who need help to manage the practical side of having periods. When some people decide that others have no need of a body part I think we should all hear alarm bells. Twentieth century history has some hideous exmaples of policies based on such ideas.