Saturday, October 31, 2009

Aiming for the wrong target

Remember the story from a recent Olympics when the athlete nailed the bullseye perfectly, and then was disqualified when they pointed out the fact that he was aiming at the target in someone else’s lane?  Ouch.
I got to thinking about our medical technologies that are proliferating like cyberrabbits.  The fastest growing categories are the “lifestyle” drugs which don’t treat injuries or life-threatening illnesses.  I know there are a lot of good things happening here, but it seems like I run across stories where it gets weird pretty fast.
Testosterone is one of the fastest-growing therapies prescribed by the $80 billion-a-year anti-aging industry, which has embraced it as the cure du jour for andropause, more commonly known as male menopause. Conservative doctors question the existence of such a malady, and testosterone makers shy from discussing it because they're not allowed to promote the drug "off-label"—for uses not endorsed by the FDA. Still, off-label prescriptions are likely to account for much of the market's rapid growth. That fact isn't lost on the FDA: During a press conference to announce the black boxes, an agency spokeswoman said she was alarmed that 25,000 testosterone prescriptions per year are written off-label for women, who use it to boost their libidos. []
I’m no doctor.  I don’t even spend any time on WebMD.  But women taking testosterone to improve their libido?  Against FDA and manufacturer warnings?  And the doctors prescribing it knowing full well what they are doing?

What if all these technologies are merely enabling us to hit the wrong target?  Is it possible that these women have decreased libido as a consequence of other lifestyle choices?  Is it possible (*gasp*) that having a decreased libido is okay, a normal state of human affairs that comes naturally with a particular stage of life?
I’m making tons of assumptions here.  Maybe somebody reading this is going to be offended because of a whole series of facts about this situation that I don’t understand.  I’m really not trying to get on a soapbox or decry the development of drugs not strictly for treating cancer or the bubonic plague.
I’m just wondering where this trend is going to take us.  If a drug could be produced that would make a serial killer forget his crimes and feel good about himself again, blissfully ignorant of his past, would that be a good thing?  (I’m not making this up.)  If that’s too extreme for you, then let’s take it down a notch.  How about a drug that makes you forget the pain of divorce? Of losing your job? Of missing your favorite television show?

Technology allows us to achieve aims not possible given the course of nature and boundaries provided to us by the world around us.  Without the massive string of technologies involved, I would not be able to ask you this question.  But I wonder how often technology enables us to hit the wrong target?  Eliminate consequences of behavior and thoughts that would otherwise guide us somewhere better?  Achieve goals that put us further from the big, root things we really seek?

Isn’t free will a blast?

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