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Some Doctors Use Hormones To Stunt The Growth Of Developmentally Disabled Kids

And I mean literally. The New York Times Magazine reports that about 65 children with severe intellectual and motor impairment (they have to have both) have been given estrogen to make them stop growing. They were also given various surgeries to prevent them from going through puberty.

We’re good people you guys. I know the concept is naturally horrifying. But after reading more about it I think the answer is trickier than that.

Unsurprisingly, most ethicists are against this procedure. But the parents are requesting it. Doctors who perform it point out that it’s much easier for aging parents to feed, bathe, and carry a child around than an adult. They also suggest that it makes the parents less likely to put their adult children in institutions. Both doctors and parents say (and this is hard to argue with) that people with the intellectual capacity of babies feel more loved, comforted, and supported if they can be held like babies.

It’s clearly a slippery slope. It reminds me of the Terry Schiavo case in 2005. It’s also obviously comparable to abortion. But that could also be an argument for it. After all, you can test your kid in vitro for Down syndrome so you can see if you want to abort it. And some Down syndrome cases aren’t even that bad. Why shouldn’t you make it easier for yourself to take care of a much more disabled kid after it’s born?

But psychiatry is also pretty new. A few shrinks thought I’d grow up to be less functional than I am. I bet most of us diagnosed as kids could say that. The thought nonverbal autistics couldn’t communicate. Now we have talking devices. They used to kill people like Helen Keller because they thought that they weren’t even sentient. I get that we’ve moved past that, but we still have a long way to go.

I spent a long time reading the comments. A lot were from family members of people with IQs under 30. Most of them were in favor of growth suppression. They talked about female caretakers of giant autistic men who had frequent, violent outbursts. They said how happy their kids were to be held. Someone said her severely disabled child had stunted growth already, and that she knew it made it so much easier to take care of him.

But there were also the expected (and valid!) comments about eugenics and Nazi Germany. A lot of people pointed out that we don’t know the long-term health effects of growth suppression. It doesn’t seem to have been studied much at all.

The thing that freaked me out is how easy it is to stunt somebody’s growth to begin with. Apparently all you need to fuse your bones early is a high dose of estrogen. Do you know how much estrogen is in things like Risperdal? I took a lot of psychotropics as a kid. That scares the shit out of me.

So far, growth suppression procedures are being done under-the-radar without much regulation or oversight. If someone asked Americans to vote on it I’m not sure what I’d say. I don’t think it’s ethically wrong. But I’m not sure I trust people enough to make a decision like that for someone else.


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Some Doctors Use Hormones To Stunt The Growth Of Developmentally Disabled Kids

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). Some Doctors Use Hormones To Stunt The Growth Of Developmentally Disabled Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2016
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