Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bookclub Selection: Normal At Any Cost

The Women's Bioethics Project's July 2009 non-fiction bookclub selection is:

Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height by Susan Cohen and Christine Cosgrove

From the Library Journal:
Two science journalists examine the fascinating history of medical science's flawed attempts to manipulate height and the ethics involved. In the first section, set primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, they discuss middle-class families who were urged to try to reduce their daughters' height before it was too late for them to be "successful adults." The tall girls were given estrogens to send them prematurely into puberty and force their growth plates to close.  In the second half, the authors focus on the use of human-growth hormone to increase the height of naturally short children. Before synthetic-growth hormone was developed, there was a painstaking procedure for extracting it from cadaver pituitary glands. This defective process led to the spread of neurological diseases as horrible as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the human version of mad cow). Interestingly, neither the growth hormone nor the estrogen resulted in systematically proven results. This startling look at medical ethics and history has implications for the future of "human improvement" therapies; recommended for large academic and public libraries.

Normal at Any Cost would also make a great text for introductory high school or college bioethics courses because it manages to tackle in an accessible and compelling manner a wide range of bioethical issues from the medicalization of social problems, the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on physician education, limits of informed consent, definition of therapeutic v. enhancement interventions, to the appropriate allocation of medical resources (social justice considerations).

Read it this summer.