Ashley X: Background information when reading Far From the Tree

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Far From the Tree

Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

by Andrew Solomon

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon X
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2012, 976 pages
    Oct 2013, 976 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Ashley X

Print Review

One of the stories Solomon tells in Far From The Tree is about Ashley X (the last name is to protect identity), a disabled girl whose story generated a lot of controversy about disability and its treatment.

Ashley X, born in 1997, was diagnosed in infancy with static encephalopathy, a brain disorder that is similar to cerebral palsy. Ashley was labeled "Permanently Unabled," which means that she would remain at infant level, mentally and physically, for the duration of her life. Ashley cannot walk, talk, feed herself, raise her head, or turn over. She can sleep, she can wake, she can breathe, and she can smile. Ashley's parents call her their "Pillow Angel," and dedicate the majority of their days to caring for her in every way - tube-feeding, changing, bathing, dressing, positioning and entertaining.

When Ashley was six, she started showing signs of precocious puberty, which is common in children with brain damage. Her parents worried about both her growth and the pain and discomfort menstruation and bodily maturation would cause. Her parents feared what would happen when Ashley began to menstruate, and also about the discomfort that large breasts would cause her. After researching hormone therapy options to stunt growth, an endocrinologist, Dr. Daniel Gunther at Seattle Children's Hospital, was consulted. He and Ashley's parents decided that the best course of action, to make Ashley's life as pain-free as possible, was to stunt her growth with estrogen, and perform a hysterectomy and breast removal as well.

The hospital's ethics committee considered the case on two grounds: a) Would these procedures have the potential to improve Ashley's quality of life? And b) What would the potential for harm be, and would it be so much that even with the potential benefit, it should be avoided? The committee voted to grant the procedures, and in 2004, Ashley X underwent a hysterectomy and had her breast buds removed. The set of procedures to suppress growth and sexual maturation were together called, "The Ashley Treatment."

The doctors and Ashley's parents were thrilled with the results and believed they'd made the right decision. Not much later, however, a report appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine detailing the procedure, and a storm of controversy ensued. Critics of the procedure were very vocal: Bioethicists claimed it was a failure of society to provide adequate support services, feminists accused the doctors of sexual mutilation, and even some disability advocates were outraged. They believed that Ashley's parents had been thinking only of themselves when they decided to stunt her growth, that if she were to stay small, she would be easier to manage.

However, an overwhelming majority of the public reaction was in support of Ashley's parents. Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer spoke out, stating, "What matters in Ashley's life is that she should not suffer, and that she should be able to enjoy whatever she is capable of enjoying. Beyond that, she is precious not so much for what she is, but because her parents and siblings love and care about her. Lofty talk about human dignity should not stand in the way of children like her getting the treatment that is best both for them and their families."

In 2007, Ashley's parents reported on their blog: "...the overwhelming majority of those who took the time to visit Ashley's blog (the only way to obtain our email address) and see her photos were in support. More importantly, virtually all family members and caregivers who indicated a direct experience with Pillow Angels were in support of the treatment."

In a March 2012 interview with the Guardian newspaper, Ashley's father reported that at age 14, she was 54 inches and weighed 75 pounds. The interview stated that her height and weight were that of a nine-year-old, the age she was when she received the Ashley treatment. Ashley lives at home with her siblings and parents, who maintain a blog about her and the effects of the Ashley Treatment. They are in contact with about a dozen parents from around the world who have chosen to have this procedure performed on their "pillow angels," and remain active in the national conversation about disability rights and medical intervention for the disabled.

To learn more about other families and exceptional children portrayed in Far From the Tree, click here.

Article by Morgan Macgregor

This article was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the October 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Last Mrs. Parrish
    The Last Mrs. Parrish
    by Liv Constantine
    Amber has lived in poverty all her life, and she has had enough. Of course, wishing to have money ...
  • Book Jacket: Never Coming Back
    Never Coming Back
    by Alison McGhee
    18 out of 23 reviewers gave Alison McGhee's Never Coming Back a rating of 4 or 5, with an average ...
  • Book Jacket: Solar Bones
    Solar Bones
    by Mike McCormack
    Written in a poetic, line-breaking style, Mike McCormack's Solar Bones reads with a breathless ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

At once a love story, a history lesson and a beautifully written tale of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Wonder Valley
    by Ivy Pochoda

    A visionary and masterful portrait of contemporary L.A. from the author of Visitation Street.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E Dog H I D

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.