Normal at Any Cost: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky May 18, 2009
Biopolitical Times
A fascinating new book recounts medical efforts over the past 50 years to "fix" children's height with hormones and other drugs. Well-intentioned doctors convinced worried parents to give their children experimental treatments that sometimes went bad - occasionally really bad, with outcomes including infertility, depression, even death.

The jacket blurb for Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height describes it as " a look at medical experimentation, greed, and the extreme measures taken to make children fit within a norm that the pharmaceutical industry seeks to set." It continues:
This cautionary tale includes stories of parents who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their children fit in and not be stigmatized, even as marketing departments spent countless sums to emphasize the stigma.
If you're reminded of horrific "designer-baby" scenarios that could, if we're not careful, be introduced by reproductive genetics, you're not the only one. Susan Cohen and Christine Cosgrove, the authors of Normal at Any Cost, write in their introduction:
The story of treating children to make them grow taller or remain shorter than nature may have intended suggests that the future of eugenics is not likely to involve totalitarian governments, made scientists or schemes to create worker drones and superbeings. Instead, it will take place through the individual decisions parents make on the basis of the options that doctors present, and the temptations that the genetic age of medicine offer.
Cohen and Cosgrove give us solid reporting, with rich detail and human stories. The history they painstakingly reconstruct supports the judgment they render:
As ways to manipulate height expand, the government agencies that protect patients, the nonprofit organizations that speak for them, and the physicians who treat them all have been influenced by the pharmaceutical companies that sell to them. In the end, short stature is a multibillion-dollar business that is still growing like a weed.