Thursday, January 31, 2008

Law & Order: SVU tackles Ashley X case/genetic testing

The Jan. 22 episode of Law & Order: SVU referenced the Ashley X case, in which parents in Washington State received permission to stunt the growth of their 6-year-old disabled daughter so her body would remain small, as well as having a scene in which some of the complexities of genetic testing and their impact on people with disabilities are discussed.

You can read more about the Ashley X case from the Inclusion Daily Express:

I won't be doing this often but I thought the dialogue surrounding these issues was important to preserve. I have transcribed it below. Unfortunately, Law & Order: SVU is not one of the shows NBC has on its web site with full episode replays.

This episode was called "Inconceivable" and focused on the theft of frozen embryos from a fertility clinic. The detectives talk to everyone who had an embryo in the stolen tank, which leads them to parents who mirror the Ashley X case and a Little Person who had embryos undergoing genetic testing.

The Ashley X scene:

The detectives enter the home of the parents of 8-year-old, Alicia, who has serious disabilities. The parents reveal that the embryos in question were actually from Alicia's eggs, which her mother was going to carry to term. The parents explain that Alicia's eggs were available because of the experimental procedure she is undergoing to stunt her growth.

Det. Elliot Stabler: Why?
Father: Growth plates fuse at puberty. The doctors started hers early to stop her from getting any bigger.
Det. Olivia Benson: So you are purposely deforming your daughter?
Father: To enhance her quality of life.
Elliot (sarcastically): Sounds like a great future.
Father: Alicia can't turn herself over. We carry her to the dinner table, give her baths, put her in a stroller to take her for a walk.
Elliot: So this is for your convenience?
Father: The more movement Alicia gets the better her circulation, which means fewer sores and infection.
Olivia: What you are doing is wrong.
Father: The bioethics committee disagreed.
Mother: We're not the first ones to do this. It was done once before in Washington State. (referring to the Ashley X case)

Stabler and Benson go out the front door of the home.

Elliot: Who are you calling?
Olivia: Children's services.
Elliot: Don't.
Olivia: You can't possibly be OK with what they are doing to her?
Elliot: Look, it's a nightmare but it's a bad situation no matter what they do. They think they're doing what's best for the kid.
Olivia: They are trapping her in a child's body forever.
Elliot: Parents have to make hard choices.

At the end of the episode, it is revealed that Olivia Benson applied to be an adoptive parent but has been turned down because she is single, has no family, and has a time-consuming job.

The scene involving genetic testing features the terrific short-statured actress, Meredith Eaton Gilden ( Two other detectives, Det. Fin Tutuola and Det. Chester Lake, question her about her embryos, which were in the group stolen.

Meredith: It's humane to get rid of the defective ones. Babies born with homozygous achondroplasia usually die within a year. Their tiny chest cages cause constriction, resulting in respiratory distress. It's a nasty death.
Fin: That's what you were screening for?
Meredith: We had a little girl named Rose who had it. She died in my arms.
Chester: I am so sorry.
Meredith: My husband is also a dwarf, which gives us a 25% chance of having a baby with the condition.
Fin: So you had them weed out the embryos with the death sentence attached?
Meredith: I donated them to research.
Chester: Sounds like the clinic helped, but we heard you caused a disturbance.
Meredith: Yea, after all of that, my doctor refused to implant one of my healthy embryos.
Fin: He refused to implant because of your size?
Meredith: No, because of babies. He wanted to use an embryo that would become what you call "normal" size. I wanted an LP.
Chester: LP? Little person.
Fin: You wanted to purposely create a child with a disability?
Meredith: Size is not a disability. We have normal lifespans and lives. Why shouldn't I be allowed to have a child who looks like me? Everybody else can.
Meredith: I think someone would have noticed if the thief was 4 foot one.


Law & Order: SVU has been doing its disability homework for this episode. The dialogue shows Olivia Benson vocalizing the the disability rights perspective in the Ashley X case, and Meredith Eaton Gilden is allowed to speak for people with physical differences who select to have children who look like them.

Anyone know where the SVU writers learned about all this? Email me and let me know.