Friday, February 23, 2007


John Hockenberry's got a really strong essay on the "Ashley" controversy, just posted at his blog (thanks to Ruth at Wheelie Catholic for the tip). He's not hemming and hawing here....
I am not going to argue that Ashley’s parents are immoral or unjustified in what they did. I will argue that they are no longer Ashley’s parents. Regardless of their love and affection for their daughter their decision to remove her breasts and uterus and maintain her in a state of pre-puberty is not a parental decision. It is more the kind of control one might enforce on a pet to manage the relationship. It is something a farmer managing the productivity of his or her operation would naturally enforce on livestock. This would be done humanely, morally, and no-doubt with considerable tender affection and love for the subjects. There would be no outcry and no controversy, yet no one would confuse these acts of husbandry as parenthood.
Of course, some cultural forces can produce pretty warped definitions of parenthood--the examples are well-known and numerous. I just finished reading Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan--it's set among women in 19c. China, among whom a "good mother" is the one who most skilfully breaks and deforms the bones in her daughter's feet with excruciating bindings. (I'm reading it as part of a book club attended entirely of mothers of young children--most of us have daughters just the age of the girls in the story, so it resonates and haunts at that level as well as other levels.) What warp in the cultural fabric makes the Ashley scenario seeming like a decent choice to so many people?


Kathy Podgers said...

An interesting analegy, and one I certainly did not think of, myself. Living in China I myself saw many women who were hobbling about, now on bound feet unbound. Putting an end to mean traditions like this has often earned the Peoples Republic an unfair "human rights violation" charge. I see similarities with the Ashley treatment, where those who question the ethics behind it are treated as though THEY were the uncaring.

Anonymous said...

It's the same thing that makes women in various parts of the world continue to give their prepubescent daughters and granddaughters unspeakable operations on their "naughty bits" so that in case they survive the infection their chastity will be assured and thus their marriageability and their chances of someday bearing their own babies painfully and dangerously, and then repeating the whole cycle themselves someday.

People who do these things think they are designing good futures for their children just as much as someone who does everything s/he can to make sure his or her child goes to college someday. It's frightening how fear itself born of love can overcome the compassion which also comes from love, making us think in certain situations that they are the same thing.