Myra, 24, may have no idea what a uterus is, whether she has one, and why she has one. She is most probably unaware that the uterus is the source of the bleeding, and the accompanying cramps, that she experiences every month. She is unlikely to ever voluntarily agree to have sex with a man or become pregnant. Myra is incapable of giving an informed consent to the removal of this mysterious organ inside her, called uterus. Who has then the right to decide if it is in her interest to remove her uterus? Should the society at large, or its representative State, have any say on this matter, or is it strictly between Myra's immediate family and her doctors?
The issue is at the heart of the doctors' plea to get a British court's approval for a hysterectomy to be performed on Katie Thorpe, 15. Katie, like Myra, suffers from cerebral palsy, and probably has the same level of cognitive and physical ability as Myra does. Katie's mother, Alison Thorpe, has requested the hysterectomy, to avoid the mental confusion and suffering, most likely to result from her menstruation. If the hysterectomy were done, her mother expects Katie's quality of life to be significantly improved :
By stopping menstruation it's allowing Katie to enjoy life to the full without the problems of menstruation...the mood swings, the tears, the stomach cramps, the pain, the discomfort, the embarrassment.
Katie's doctors are expected to perform the surgery on her, if and when they obtain the court's approval.
A couple of years ago, the parents of a nine-year old girl, Ashley, from Seattle, Washington, chose to let her doctors perform a series of medical procedures to improve her quality of life, including a hysterectomy. Ashlely suffered from a severe underdevelopment of her mental and motor faculties [a condition known as “static encephalopathy of unknown etiology”]. Like Myra and Katie, she completely depended on her parents and care givers for all her day to day needs. You can read the details of the Ashley Treatment, as it is called, at the parents' informational website dedicated to describing Ashley's case. Ashley's treatment was examined and approved by a Medical Ethics Committee. A court approval was not thought necessary.
Several special interests groups including those that advocate disability rights, such as the Not Dead Yet, Feminist Response in Disability Activism, Scope, and the Disability Rights Washington have raised objections to medical procedures similar to the Ashley Treatment. They argue that such procedures violated the human rights of the disabled. Many of them want the government to do more [translated, $$$] for the care of the disabled, instead.
Ashley's parents have given a persuasive response to such criticisms. With particular reference to a judicial intervention in the matter, they have said:
While we support laws protecting vulnerable people against involuntary sterilization, the law appears to be too broadly based to distinguish between people who are or can become capable of decision making and those who have a grave and unchanging medical condition such as Ashley, who will never become remotely capable of decision making. Requiring a court order for all hysterectomies performed on all disabled persons regardless of medical condition, complexity, severity, or prognosis puts an onerous burden on already over-burdened families of children with medical conditions as serious as Ashley’s.
It's beyond reasonable doubt that Katie, Ashley, and Myra, will never be able to speak for their rights and interests. Who can best speak for them in their absence? Should a court of law be given the authority to overrule the parents especially their mothers in these cases and the concerned doctors?
I have stated my position on this earlier, when I wrote on the euthanasia of severely disabled babies, who could barely be kept alive with artificial life-support systems and/or financially debilitating treatment. Under these circumstances, I have contended that the parents are the second best spokespersons for those who cannot speak for themselves, subject to medical concurrence. In cases where the medical opinion is ambiguous or conflicting, the parents must have the final say.
The likes of Katie, Ashley, and Myra will most likely have a much longer life than Terry Schiavo after her stroke. What transpired in the Schiao case, however, should be an eye-opener for those who argue for the society and the government to speak for these "pillow angels". As an old Arab fable teaches us, "Beware of the camel's nose"!