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Observations On Ashley

Without coming down for or against the decisions made by her parents, I'd like to make two observations about the debate over Ashley, the girl with the mental development of an ordinary 6-month-old who has undergone various medical treatments to prevent her from growing and going through puberty:

1. This case provides the most clear-cut example of one of the basic differences between conservative and radical worldviews. Both see problems arising from a mismatch between a person and their environment. The conservative says "the environment is normative, or at least impossible to change. Therefore the person has the duty to adapt themselves to its demands." The radical says "the person is normative, or at least impossible to change. Therefore the environment must be changed to create a spot that the person fits comfortably into." (Amanda Marcotte has an interesting attempt to make an argument in favor of the parents that follows the form of a radical argument, by redefining the person-environment boundary such that Ashley's body is part of the environment for the "real person" of her mind.)

2. Both supporters and detractors of the parents make use of an opposition between the "normal" and the "grotesque" (an opposition I find consistently unhelpful), but they define them differently. Supporters of the parents see congruity between the mental and physical development of an individual (as measured by the pace of those developments in an average person) as normal, while a mismatch such as a 6-month-old mind in a post-pubescent body seems grotesque. Detractors of the parents see the level of development achieved by either the body or the mind, taken in isolation from each other and from any external normative standard, as normal, while interference with that course of development is grotesque.


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