Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Americans With Disabilities Affirm Katie Thorpe’s Right to Bodily Integrity

For Immediate Release:
October 9, 2007
For Information Contact:
Sharon Lamp (847) 803-3258; (847) 894-4907 cell
Amber Smock: Ambity(a)aol.com

(Chicago) The American disability rights groups Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA), with the support of Not Dead Yet, today joins United Kingdom disability groups such as Scope in protesting the planned hysterectomy on 15-year-old Katie Thorpe, who has cerebral palsy. Her mother, Alison Thorpe, wants doctors to remove Katie's uterus to help her avoid the pain, “inconvenience,” and "indignity" of menstruation.

The clinical director for gynecology, Phil Robarts, is seeking legal approval from the UK hospital system NHS to go forward with the procedure. In the United Kingdom, such a procedure without the consent of the party involved is considered assault, so legal approval would be a first. The surgery is not medically necessary and would be painful and traumatic.

This case is reminiscent of the internationally publicized case of Ashley X, whose parents not only subjected her to a hysterectomy but also breast bud removal and growth attenuation therapy. In such cases, the parents believe that "normal" bodily maturation processes will impair their child’s quality of life. However, these cases tend to involve children and adolescents with disabilities who cannot – or are not allowed to - speak for themselves. Surgical intervention, such as hysterectomy, is not required to save the life of the child involved.

Sarah Triano of FRIDA points out, "Is this something we would allow any other 15 year old without a disability to even contemplate? Why is it different just because Katie has a disability? It's discrimination - plain and simple." Fellow FRIDA member Barb Bechdol muses, "This Draconian procedure implies that a person with severe disabilities is a permanent vegetable. My life wouldn't have included the richness of education or marriage, if this sort of intervention had been foisted on me. Shame on them!"

Instead, FRIDA feels the core of the problem lies not only in the blatant sexism involved, but in the lack of community supports for families of children with severe disabilities. With only one or two parental caregivers, these families face enormous unrelieved stress without any recourse to professional, well-paid respite care. Cases such as Katie's continue to demonstrate that society must change to include the individual with a disability. Surgical intervention is not the answer.

International advocates for disability rights have long advocated for the right of disabled people to bodily integrity. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which took two years to shape, specifically states that bodily integrity is a human right.

Furthermore, FRIDA believes that removing Katie’s womb to avoid the “indignity” and “inconvenience” of menstruation is a value judgment that should carry no weight. We do not subscribe to the viewpoint that Katie does not need her womb because she will not have babies. This is a sexist expectation that opens the door for violation of not only Katie’s but other girls with disabilities’ bodies.