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Parental reasoning about growth attenuation therapy: report of a single-case study
  1. Nicola Kerruish1,
  2. John R McMillan2
  1. 1Department of Women's and Children's Health and Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicola Kerruish, Department of Women's and Children's Health and Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin 9013, New Zealand; nikki.kerruish{at}


In 2006 a case report was published about a 6-year-old girl, Ashley, who has profound developmental disabilities and was treated with oestrogen patches to limit her final height, along with a hysterectomy and the removal of her breast buds. Ashley's parents claimed that attenuating her growth would make it possible for them to lift and move her more easily, facilitating greater involvement in family activities and making routine care more straightforward. The ‘Ashley treatment’ provoked public comment and academic debate and remains ethically controversial. As more children are being referred for such treatment, there is an urgent need to clarify how clinicians and ethics committees should respond to such requests. The controversy surrounding the Ashley treatment exists, at least in part, because of gaps in the literature, including a lack of empirical data about the outcomes for children who do and do not receive such treatment. However, we suggest in this paper that there is also merit in examining the parental decision-making process itself, and provide empirical data about the reasoning of one set of parents who ultimately chose part of this treatment for their child. Using the interview data, we illuminate some important points regarding how these parents characterise benefits and harms and their responsibilities as surrogate decision-makers. This analysis could inform decision-making about future requests for growth attenuation and might also have wider relevance to healthcare decision-making for children with profound cognitive impairment.

  • Decision-making
  • Disability
  • Minors/Parental Consent

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