Not only does the advance of science mean that people are living longer, but now they may even be able to start determining their own health and that of their offspring. Most people want to do this for purely medical reasons, such as genetic filtering to prevent disease in future generations, but there are some others who wish to spend their money trying to turn back the clock and bring back their youth. Ethical and medical issues surround all these uses, making “designer health” quite a debatable topic.
Diet, exercise, medicine, and surgery
Diet and exercise are the most basic ways to control your health. This, of course, is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, if diet and exercise alone are not achieving the desired results, people may turn to more drastic measures to try to manipulate both their actual fitness and outward appearance of health. Supplements, illegal steroids, and even plastic surgery have been used to boost the effects of diet and exercise. Of course, any of these things can be risky, and the results can be unpredictable. Surgery in particular seems to have the most visible risks (we’ve all seen people who have had a breast enhancement gone wrong, or ridiculous face lifts), but certainly this has not put people off. The elective cosmetic surgery industry doesn’t look like it’s going out of business anytime soon. New techniques are constantly being developed to help people look as young and healthy as they wish to.
Human growth hormone (commonly known as HGH) bridges the gap between the appearance of health and actual health. The long-term ramifications of HGH injections are as yet unknown, but this doesn’t stop some people from paying large amounts to take the drug on a regular basis. Many who do say it has literally brought them back to their youth, restoring muscle tone, increasing the metabolism, and even regenerating internal organs. But what will happen ten years down the road? It can be tempting to want to start HGH treatment before the real signs of aging set in, but if there is a risk of a significant decrease in life span as a result, that probably wouldn’t be worth it for most people.
Designer health isn’t just for those already getting older. For children with significant health problems, it is now possible for scientists to allow genetically filtered embryos to develop, in order to provide things like bone marrow or tissue transplants for siblings. The idea is that the embryo is a “backup baby” that would only be used for emergencies. Clearly there are a lot of ethical issues that arise from proceeding in this way, but that isn’t stopping couples from freezing embryos just in case something goes wrong with their child.
But where would genetic filtering stop? If it gets to the point where health fears are no longer a worry, then it’s not difficult to imagine it becoming a fashion issue, with couples paying money in order to have the privilege of pre-determining their child’s every feature. A baby with blue eyes, superior athletic ability, and a high IQ could be theirs for the low low price of… you get the picture. This sort of technology is still in the early stages being developed, but if we postpone the debate about whether or not it should be allowed at all, there’s nothing to stop it from happening. Should made-to-order children be available to the public? It’s something we need to decide before it’s too late.
If the main point of health design is postponing death, then what if death could be avoided altogether? It sounds crazy, but scientists believe that aging is a disease, and like all diseases, a cure just needs to be found. His team at the University of Cambridge biogerontology department are working on researching just such a cure, and Grey believes that people could live to be 1,000 years old if they wanted to.
What would you do if you could be healthy for 1,000 years? Personally, I don’t want to live that long, but I can imagine that people will be lining up to participate in the trials as soon as they’re announced. Imagine what would happen to the overpopulation problem if people started choosing to live for a millennium. There are probably countless issues we can’t even imagine yet. We need to start thinking about these things now, though. The future is coming, and if the people of the future are able to defy conventional nature and control every aspect of their health, the implications for our evolution as a species are intriguing, to say the least.