Bizarre medicine

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Medical research into and an understanding of how the human body can be manipulated to cure or avoid disease or give comfort to those who suffer from debilitating illnesses are generally lauded as welcome medical advances. But recent reports of doctors who use essentially the same techniques to alter patients so they develop predetermined characteristics is not only bizarre, but raises complicated ethical issues as well.

A few weeks ago there was a story about deaf parents who wanted their children to be deaf too, which suggested that other parents with restricted growth or who are blind might seek to have their children medically altered to match.

Such notions seem almost unbelievable. And the possibilities of similar medical procedures took another turn last week with reports of parents who received medical intervention to keep their severely mentally and physically disabled daughter small so she would be more manageable.

In this case, doctors removed the bedridden 9-year-old's uterus and breast tissue and gave her hormones to halt her growth. The parents say the procedures were necessary so they could continue to care for their daughter in their home.

One medical journal called these drastic alterations ill-advised, and the case has sparked quite an ethical debate.

It is within the scope of human compassion to embrace parents who seek medical assistance for their children well outside the bounds of normal health care. But some of these efforts certainly raise questions about the medical professionals who participate in such radical treatments. Most of us expect doctors and other health-care providers to ease suffering of their patients, not cater to the whims of relatives.

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