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The Specter of Eugenics or a Caring Mom?


BBC News is reporting that the mother of a 15-year-old girl who has severe cerebral palsy is asking doctors to perform a hysterectomy on the girl. The mother’s reason? To prevent her disabled daughter from feeling the discomforts and “indignities” of menstruation, and to keep and improve the quality of her daughter’s life. From the BBC:

According to the Sunday Times, Phil Robarts, a consultant gynaecologist at Mrs Thorpe’s local hospital, supports her decision.

Mrs Thorpe said: “She’s not going to get married and she’s not going to have children…Katie is not going to become a normal adult.

“I absolutely understand that it’s not for everyone, and I’m not saying it should be either.

“I’m not advocating this should be a blanket policy for all disabled children, absolute horror at that.”

But she said she was “utterly” convinced it was the right decision for her daughter.

“It’s not about us, it’s about Katie,” she said.

Here’s the conflict: the mother — quite importantly — distinguishes her daughter from other people who might make different decisions. But I can’t help but be made nervous by the idea. It strikes me as only very slightly removed from Buck v. Bell, the 1927 case in which the Supreme Court upheld a Virginia statute allowing the sterilization of mentally disabled women. In that case, too, the (adopted) family of a mentally disabled woman committed her to a home for the mentally disabled after she gave birth to a child out of wedlock. (It should be noted that there is a racist backdrop to the case — by some accounts, Ms. Buck, who was white, gave birth to a child fathered by a black man.) Buck v. Bell is no longer good law, but Justice Holmes’s infamous statement in the Court’s decision that “three generations of imbeciles is enough” continues to haunt us.

So what are we to make of the British woman, who by all accounts just wants to do right by her child? And what about the child who, though she may not live what her mother calls a “normal adulthood” may at some point desire to be a parent, or even just want to know what it feels like to have a period? Don’t the girl’s human rights dictate that doctors shouldn’t perform the surgery? What kind of precedent would it set to endorse the mother’s request? Is a forced hysterectomy for a girl who is, other than her palsy, healthy, at age 15 really in the girl’s best interest?

(via Lynn C.)

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