Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Parents of disabled children ask for the `Ashley treatment'

THE GUARDIAN , SEATTLE

Doctors in Seattle who treated the severely disabled girl Ashley with surgery and hormones to keep her at the size of a six-year-old child have received requests from parents of other disabled children to repeat the treatment.

Dan Gunther, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington who devised Ashley's treatment with the blessing of her parents, said four sets of parents had contacted him to ask that their children be considered.

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US media organizations have also been approached by parents keen to find out whether their disabled children could have their growth stunted to prevent them attaining full adult size.

The treatment given to Ashley, now aged nine, who has been brain damaged since birth and cannot walk or talk, became public last week when her parents posted a 4,000-word essay on the Internet explaining why they had wanted to subject her to a series of operations including removal of her uterus and to a high-dose course of the female hormone estrogen to halt bone growth.

They said that by restricting her size to 1.34m, rather than her expected 1.67m, she would be more comfortable and have a better quality of life.

Ethical dilemmas

Gunther said that requests for similar treatment posed ethical dilemmas for the Seattle Child-ren's hospital where he practises. The hospital's management, as well as its ethics committee which heard Ashley's case before she was treated, would be involved in detailed discussions before decisions were taken.

"There are many families who are in the same position as Ashley and her parents and for whom this might be an option. We certainly wouldn't want to put pressure on families, but there are some where children would undoubtedly benefit," Gunther said.

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