October 09, 2007

Instant period cure (no able-bodied folks need apply)

Scenario 1: An adult trans man is distressed by his periods, humiliated by the monthly occurrence of blood and the need to use pads or tampons, and fed up with his cramps, which, though perfectly average in intensity, are still painful and inconvenient.

He goes to his doctor and, on the basis of this information, requests an elective hysterectomy. He's told, roughly, that he's not qualified to make this decision for himself; that before he undergoes permanent and irreversible surgery, he has to get a doctor to certify that he won't regret the loss of his innards and that the presence of his uterus causes him more harm than the average uterus.

And then, sometimes, he still doesn't get the hysto.

Scenario 2: An adult cisgender woman (who has previously gotten her tubes tied, say) is distressed by her periods, humiliated by the monthly occurrence of blood and the need to use pads or tampons, and fed up with her cramps, which, though perfectly average in intensity, are still painful and inconvenient.

She goes to her doctor and, on the basis of this information, requests an elective hysterectomy. She's told, roughly, that to grant her request would be beyond the bounds of ethical medical practice - that functioning organs aren't removed without a better reason than convenience.

Scenario 3: A 15-year-old girl has not yet had her period. Her mother, however, believes that it will cause her daughter humiliation, distress, and unnecessary pain, although there is no indication that the girl's periods, when they come, will be anything other than average in intensity.

Her mother goes to the doctor and, on the basis of this information, requests that the girl be given an elective hysterectomy.

She's told, roughly, "Sure, let me just check it with our lawyers."


Sound bizarre? Impossible, even?

The difference, of course, is that Katie Thorpe, the 15-year-old girl in Scenario 3, has cerebral palsy. Her mother says that the removal of her daughter's uterus is for her own good; that she'll never need it to have children, anyway; and that since Katie cannot give or refuse consent, it is up to her mother to make these decisions for her.

Her mother also says - and people around the blogosphere seem to agree - that it's backbreaking labor for her to take care of Katie, and that the fact that she is the one changing Katie's diapers (and the one who would be changing Katie's pads) makes her the only one with the moral right to make this decision.

But, of course, it's all for Katie, right? 'Cause, you know, a period is a disease that you need to cure. Or, rather, it's a disease that you need to cure disabled women of, without their consent if need be.

There are a lot of issues here:

  • Do we have the right to remove other people's body parts for our own convenience? If the answer is "generally, no," at what point does it become "yes"?
  • If we can choose elective hysterectomies for persons under our care, why would we be regarded as out of our gourds for wanting the same thing for ourselves?
  • Does it matter that Katie may never be pregnant? Is the only purpose of leaving the body in one piece to make sure it's a proper incubator?
  • What if Katie's mother really wanted grandchildren? Assume that Katie was physically able to bear a child without harming her health - assume, hypothetically, that she wouldn't even be aware she was pregnant - and her mother was willing to tend to her and to raise the resulting baby. Would we still say that, since she was the only one cognizant of the consequences and the legal guardian of her daughter, what happened to that uterus was entirely her concern?
  • And the big one: if we say to Katie's mother that she cannot choose a hysterectomy for her daughter, are we willing, as a society, to pony up the tax money to pay for attendant services so that she won't have to take care of her daughter 24/7 and change her bloody diapers?
Analysis at F.R.I.D.A. (Feminist Response In Disability Advocacy): "Katie Thorpe's Womb To Be Removed By Parents"

Full news coverage at NewsTin: "Mother in controversial bid ..."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my understanding, in most cases, CP does not affect decision-making ability. If the kid can decide, why not let her? Or at least let her decide as an adult. And yes, as a society, we should share the labor involved in care-taking for folks who need it which means that someone should be paid a good wage in order to help as necessary. Why should the assumption be that her mom will do all the work herself?

WTTO