Ellie Simmonds, a five-time gold Paralympic swimmer, is used to an environment where difference is celebrated. But now, in a new BBC documentary, she’s investigating a controversial new drug that some people argue could bring an end to dwarfism.
A pioneering drug is coming on the market that promises to make children with Achondroplasia – Ellie’s form of Dwarfism – grow closer to average height.
Achondroplasia is a genetic condition that is the most common type of dwarfism in the UK, and the new treatment raises the question: if cutting edge medicine can stop disability in its tracks – should we use it?
Who is Ellie Simmonds?
Ellie Simmonds OBE is one of the most recognised athletes in the para-swimming team as a result of her incredible performances and her tearful celebrations across three Paralympic Games.
She became the youngest member of the British team at Beijing 2008, where she won the 100m freestyle S6 before breaking her own world record by more than seven seconds for a second title in the 400m freestyle S6.
At London 2012 she held her nerve under the pressure of public expectation to secure 400m freestyle S6 and 200m individual medley SM6 golds as well as 100m freestyle S6 silver and 50m freestyle S6 bronze medals.
Check out an interview we did with Ellie Simmonds ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Ellie claimed gold at her third Games at Rio 2016, taking the Paralympic title in the 200m individual medley SM6. She became the first S6 swimmer to dip below the three-minute mark, with a time of 2:59.81. She also won bronze in the women’s 400m freestyle S6.
Ellie narrowly missed out on a place on the podium at Tokyo, twice finishing fifth as well as fourth in the SB6 100m breaststroke final, in what she later confirmed would be her fourth and final Paralympic Games.
Ellie Simmonds: A World Without Dwarfism?
Ellie Simmonds: A World Without Dwarfism? is a 60-minute documentary that will examine a new drug that promises to help children born with Achondroplasia increase the growth rate.
Travelling around the UK and US, Ellie will explore all sides of this contentious debate, following currently available treatments for dwarfism, meeting families embarking on the drug trial, others who feel treatment would have positively impacted their lives, as well as those who are proud of their identity and question the aims of the drug.
The road to acceptance and inclusion of disabled people has been heard, and many feel these gains are in danger of being lost, while others see only positives with breakthroughs in modern treatments. This documentary cuts through the controversy and gets to the heart of the matter.
In this timely investigation, Ellie will reflect and draw on her own experiences and ask wider questions about the relationship between science, diversity and disability.
For Ellie, this will be a deeply personal documentary, meeting other members of the dwarfism community and families wrestling with the decision of whether to take the drug. As Ellie interrogates her own beliefs and preconceptions, she’ll also grapple with the dilemmas that emerging breakthrough medicines pose for our society.
When this film was commissioned by the BBC back in October 2021, Ellie said:
“This is a subject close to my heart. Growing up these drugs weren’t available to me and had they been, I don’t know what my parents would have done. But I wouldn’t change myself. I love who I am and I am glad that I have dwarfism because I think my body is strong and beautiful.”
Ellie Simmonds: A World Without Dwarfism? Will be on Tuesday 5th April 2022 at 9pm on BBC One and you can catch up on BBC iPlayer.
By Emma Purcell
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