Human Growth Hormone and the Measure of Man


Dov Fox

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In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized pharmaceutical companies to promote human Growth Hormone (hGH) for use in children who are very short but not suffering from any specific illness or medical condition. Parents are now using hGH in record numbers, hoping that hormone treatment will give their kids happier childhoods and more prosperous adulthoods. No one should doubt these parental good intentions. But the normalization of height enhancement reflects a troubling disposition, familiar in our time, to redefine disadvantageous traits as illnesses and look to medical techniques for a cure. Of course, there are often real benefits to using medical technologies for self-improvement: straighter teeth, clearer complexions, firmer figures. Our technological enhancements to body and psyche, however, may also undermine those human goods that are less obvious but more fundamental - especially parental love for the abnormal child and civic love for the abnormal neighbor. We can hardly expect the FDA, under that agency's current mission, to worry about such matters; its concern is the safety of products, not the health of the culture. But when it approved height enhancement for healthy kids, the FDA made a mistake on our behalf. Exploring the nature of this error may help us deal more wisely with the enhancements of the future, or at least see more clearly the full meaning of our improvements.