The power to shrink human beings.

Science, technology, and life.
Jan. 20 2007 7:06 AM

Girl, Interrupted

The power to shrink human beings.

With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.
—Marge Piercy, "A Work of Artifice"

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Ashley. And she stayed little forever.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right. Follow him on Twitter.

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It's a true story. You can read it on her parents' blog, ashleytreatment.spaces.live.com. Ashley's brain stopped developing at 3 months. Nobody knows why. She never learned how to roll over, sit up, or walk.

But Ashley's body kept growing. It was hard work lifting her and moving her around. When she was 6, her parents discovered something amazing. "We learned that attenuating growth is feasible through high-dose estrogen therapy," her mom writes. "This treatment was performed on teenage girls starting in the 60's and 70's, when it wasn't desirable for girls to be tall, with no negative or long-term side effects."

Eureka. Ashley didn't have to reach her natural adult size. She could be "attenuated."

So Ashley's doctors reshaped her. Her parents call it the "Ashley Treatment." They lay it out in three steps:

1. Limiting final height using high-dose estrogen therapy.
2. Avoiding menstruation and cramps by removing the uterus (hysterectomy).
3. Limiting growth of the breasts by removing the early breast buds.

The first step alone can reduce a child's adult size by 2 feet and 100 pounds, according to Ashley's doctors. Other parents are already asking for the same treatment. We don't have to make the world fit people anymore. We can shrink people to fit the world.

Is this a good idea?

Ashley's parents think so. The less she weighs, the more she can be "held in our arms" and transported to stimulating activities, they argue. Without treatment, she would exceed her stroller's weight limit and "stop fitting in a standard size bathtub." And breasts would get in the way of her wheelchair straps.