There is a bomb girl who frequents the same gym I go to. She looks like a movie star, and works ferociously at the various sculpting machines there. She keeps looking back at an imaginary fold of fat at the waist, and keeps whining to the trainer, “I am putting on weight!”
This beauty is spending money, time and effort to beat a non-existent disease: obesity. She is also, potentially, damaging her joints and heart when she pounds the treadmills and pumps the weights. Shouldn’t someone stop her before its too late?
There is another girl I know who wants to trim her inner labia. She seeks a cosmetic gynecologist who does vaginoplasties. And another one who wants a surgery to make her a virgin again, before she gets married a few weeks later. These girls are looking to seek potentially dangerous and complication-prone operations that treat no disease. They are merely expressing some inner wish to change their structure, though there may be nothing fundamentally wrong with them.
I had previously highlighted how the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) is hotly after the man who has made vaginoplasty a commercial money-spinner. This merely illustrates the fact that there are people in the world, including medical experts, who want to stop procedures that alter one’s physical state. Sex change surgery is another example. There are countries where this is illegal.
The future is fraught with potentially more complex and controversial issues like using genetic engineering and cloning to create a new type of human being that may be peculiarly enhanced. For example, a mother may be able to select a baby who is genetically engineered to see in the dark. Or one who will be free of certain deadly diseases. If you have not read my article on ‘Disruptive Medicine’, this is your lucky day. Check it out.
A Swedish organisation called Eudoxa talks of this morphological freedom, defining it as “an extended right to your own life, including your body.”
Why would a man or woman want to alter his structure for overtly trivial reasons?

We express ourselves through what we are becoming.
Self-development is an intense motivational factor for most humans, and by its
nature this is a very personal and challenging achievement.

Look at tattooing. The way many conservative people see it, it is a kinky and perverse thing to do. It is, however, considered quite cool and contemporary by much of modern society.
It is a personal morphological alteration without specific reasons beyond an individual’s personal choice and freedom of expression.

But wouldn’t genetic modification of children alter society and endanger it? Should we not stop this before it is too late?

Recognizing the right to choose among the many options made available through
morphologic freedom also supports the right not to choose them; the positive and
negative rights are two sides of the same coin.
Purely negative goals like the EU Commission’s directive on children’s right to be
born with unmodified genes will often end up in conflict with positive goals such as
providing children with the best possible medical attention. This right is also
mentioned by the Commission, but is undermined by the negative goal.
One of the many ways this positive goal can be attained is through surgery in the
womb for certain congenital defects. This type of operation changes the body and
the potential person much more than any genetic modification we can bring about.

In other words, apart from the issues of personal freedom and choice, these same disruptive technologies that could change future generations could also save countless lives and improve the lifestyle of the suffering. For example, see the use of intelligent prostheses for amputees that work better than normal limbs.
For more details, check out this link and download a pdf of the statement of Eudoxa.

Whatever be one’s views on this, this issue is a sure one for the future. You haven’t heard anything yet!


  1. Doc,

    I am stunned. Not by your revelations but by the position you are taking. I thought you were generally a strong votary of market forces and an advocate of letting them decide the course of all “development”. How come this change of heart? ๐Ÿ™‚ Anything to do with Jaipur?

  2. PS: That reminds me: what are your views on the Jaipur Foot?

  3. Vivek:
    You haven’t been reading, I am afraid.
    Concentrating on other things?
    My initial question on controlling a girl’s irrational method of torturing her body in a gym was merely rhetorical.
    My hard posture on this is not a one-night stand, and hence I will not make an error of emission, I mean, commission.

  4. There are two different underlying questions here. One has to do with an individual’s rights over his/her body. Should these be absolute or should the State/society have a say on this matter? Body piercing, tattooing, plastic surgery, organ trade, sex for money, right to death, etc. belong here. To me the answer is quite straight forward. The individual should be free to choose, as long as the choice does not involve [threat of] physical violence to another.

    The second question – exemplified by “the EU Commissionโ€™s directive on childrenโ€™s right to be
    born with unmodified genes ” – is tricky. It involves the reproductive rights of the parents, the right to inviolation of a woman’s body, and fetal rights, i.e., when and what rights accrue to the fetus. The last, fetal rights, is perhaps the most confounding of these. Closely related is the question of State’s interest, if any, in the fetus/unborn child, and if it supersedes parent’s right, if any, to have “designer babies”. I personally lean on the side of the parents – their reproductive rights are absolute.

    Your linking of the two questions raises another that’s fascinating to me: what would a conservative do if presented with a choice to have a designer baby that’d be god-fearing, hetero-sexual, anti-abortion, neocon baby and one that’d be atheist, homo-sexual, pro-choice, bleeding-heart liberal ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. TRF:
    Yes, fetal rights is a tricky issue all right. The right of the fetus is said by some (like Rand) to be non-existent as the fetus is merely a potential human being and, therefore, not entitled to full human rights. I, however, am not entirely happy with this (or at least my understanding of the concept).
    If parents have the rights to modify the state of the unborn baby (and I surely do say they do), then what prevents a mother from ordering a surgery to remove all four limbs of her baby? Her reason may be anything, including wanting the baby to be fitted with prosthetic limbs that are stronger than normal limbs.
    If we say that the parent cannot be allowed to do anything destructive, this opens up a lot of issues like who defines ‘destructive’, what about surgery for fetal conditions that could remove a diseased organ, etc.
    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  6. I believe life goes in cycles. We go to one extreme and go to such a limit that we start to harm ourselves (though we think we are not harming ourselves, but improving ourselves) and then slowly we start going back to where we started… the only thing is that these cycles differ from society to society and one society may have already started back while another is reaching it’s peak. I don’t know if I am making sense, but overall I think in this sea-sawing, some things just stick. It’s the things that stick which get perpetuated…I think I better stop now as soon I won’t know what I am talking about! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Nita, for a minute I thought that comment was being written by Atal Behari Vajpayee or George Bush!

  8. doc,

    As I wrote earlier, the question of fetal rights is a tough one. It reminds me of the discussion on abortion that I had a while ago with a brilliant economist (Nobel material) from the University of Chicago, who had unfortunately sold part of his brain to Christian evangelists of the Ted Haggard variety! My position was [and is – not a one night stand, as you had put it succinctly] that the woman had absolute rights over her body, and therefore, strongly pro-choice. I conceded a caveat, though. The woman has no obligations to the fetus that has no rights [I agree with Rand here], but she does have obligations to herself.

    Let me illustrate what I mean with the example that I constructed for my colleague. Imagine an E.T. [no recognized rights] on a river bank. The water is rising rapidly, and if the E.T. did not cross over to the safe hills on the other side, he will surely die. A boatwoman (no other boat anywhere in sight) comes along, and takes E.T. aboard, committing to ferry him across. No contract or consideration here, but only an intent and commitment on the part of the boatwoman. Midway she changes her mind, and throws E.T. overboard. Has she committed a crime?

    The presumption ought to be that neither the boatwoman’s decision to take E.T. aboard, nor her subsequent decision to throw him overboard were made lightly. No third person will have the right to judge her, unless every reasonable person can be absolutely certain that she made these decisions without weighty consideration. That is, neither the State, nor a court of law may second guess the intent or commitment of the boatwoman, unless there can be no reasonable doubt whatsoever about malintent or malfeasance.

    My position on in vitro surgery, chemical use/abuse during pregnancy, and reprogenetics, is the same as the one that I hold on abortion.

  9. Lest I should be accused of plagiarism, I must attribute some of the phrases that I have used in the above comment to the recent judgment (2-25-08) in an unrelated case of Government of Andhra Pradesh & Ors v. Smt. P. Laxmi Devi, issued by J. H.K. Sema and J. Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court of India, who have themselves quoted from articles by Prof
    James Bradley Thayer (1831-1902), Professor of Law of Harvard University.

  10. Doc, this post reminded me of something that’s bothered me of late:
    Young and old people these days are just _too_ perfect. Most 70 year olds do not look like movie stars -Botoxed, surgically enhanced, etc. Rare genetic freaks exist, of course, but I want grandma to look like grandma!
    As for the young, Pamela Anderson (“Baywatch”) exemplifies the boob job, bleach blond hair, tattoos, botox, spray on tans and collagen injected lips copycatted by so many.
    Sadly, Nicole Kidman with those overdone lip injections and Mickey Rourke’s plastic surgery gone amok….ewwwww.
    Saw a movie not long ago…the chick was a natural beauty – obviously no boob job (flat!), but gorgeous long black hair befitting a SE Asian girl, and long legs. I see pictures of old time beauties such as Grace Kelley and wish there were more of them around.
    Question for you guys: do you find all this artificial enhancement attractive, or is it just me?

  11. Jackie:
    Will nude photographs of unrealistically real wax models titillate me? I guess, yes. How about touching, kissing, or embracing them? Revolting!

  12. Jackie:
    TRF always puts it far better than I ever could!
    “Obligation towards herself”…
    well, would that be legally enforceable? I think you did not imply that. Just making that clear.
    There is this situation that troubles me:
    A woman is eight months pregnant. She decides to terminate this fetus, which otherwise would have been a self-sustaining, live one. How different would this be from infanticide of a just born baby? The potential for independent existence of a newborn is the same as a well-formed fetus. They both would do well outside the mother’s body, but would need nutrition, warmth, etc.
    My own views are that till viability of the fetus is reached, the mother’s rights are absolute. After viability, the baby should have the right to life, though subsidiary to the mother’s.

  13. doc:

    Is “obligation towards herself” in this context – a woman taking good faith decisions on the ex post wellbeing/life of the fetus – legally enforceable ? Perhaps, under the “duty of care” principle or the general law of obligation. I’ll defer to the legal experts on this.

    In my example, I was merely referring to the the presumption of weighty consideration on the part of the mother in her decision to abort . IMV, this presumption should hold whatever be the term of the abortion. After all, when the fetus is viable outside the mother’s body is technology dependent, and changes constantly.

    Then again, the question is moot when all abortions (including late term ones) are legal, is it not? The mother has relinquished her right over the fetus, whenever she chooses to abort it. She should, therefore, have no say on whether the fetus is subsequently incubated or not.

  14. doc,
    I have linked to your post in a new post on my blog, Right to Vaginoplasty and Designer Babies. I hope you don’t mind. Thanks.

  15. I feel that it is inevitable that people will introduce machines into their bodies instead of genetic changes through the nanotechnology route.

  16. TRF:
    Sure, a pleasure.
    Late term abortions are NOT legal. After the viability of the fetus is reached, one cannot terminate pregnancy. I think the same is valid in the US, but am not sure.
    Care to amplify that?

  17. R-Doc:

    “..After the viability of the fetus is reached, one cannot terminate pregnancy..”

    Since you mention the US, it is worth pointing out that even amongst literate people, there is considerable debate about the point at which the foetus is deemed “viable”. Scientists would go with the appearance of the primitive streak as the point where life begins, others (less science-minded people) proffer all sorts of emotive argument to suggest all abortion should be disallowable. Even the woman at the centre of Roe vs. Wade recently said she did not think abortion should be legal at all.

    And yes, to echo Vivek’s sentiment, I am surprised that you argue not for the free market this time! After all, the woman is illogical only from your perspective; may be there is something she knows about genetic history, her family’s health problems which she is logically exercising to prevent (even if she frames it as “I am becoming too fat”). How can you assume you have perfect information about people who appear illogical to you?

  18. And I append a smiley in case you think otherwise of my intention behind raising these questions ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Shefaly:
    I am not sensitive to contrary viewpoints at all. Hence, I will not question your intentions.
    I am surprised that you, too, think like Vivek.
    It is surely my fault that I am unable to clarify my point of view.
    I thought I illustrated the free market point of view in the post!
    Anyway, one point that needs clarification:
    the mere presence of a streak is not evidence of a viable fetus. The fetus has to reach an age where it could be a self-sustaining entity, though this time would decrease with advancement of technology.
    Whatever be the age of the fetus, pro-choice advocates do not confer any rights to it. The fetus is said to be like an appendage or organ of the mother, who has absolute rights of ownership over it. I am not entirely happy with this, I admit.

  20. Doc,

    While I do not claim to speak for Shefaly, I don’t agree that her accord with me on an isolated point of logic should be interpreted to mean that she thinks like me.

    “Darn” indeed! ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Interesting article you present here. I enjoyed your other posts as well. Cleverly articulated.

    Have a nice weekend.

  22. Enreal:
    Thanks, and you have a great time, too.

  23. So, do “objectivist” parents-to-be throw “Fetus Shower” instead of “Baby Shower”? ๐Ÿ˜€

  24. Doc,

    It looks like you saw that shawty in the gym and guess you had sensual pleasure for weeks watching that beauty making beautiful moves on treadmill. Cool! after that you introduced this really weird stuff on gynecologists, surgeries and finally to the rights of fetus ๐Ÿ™‚ Wow Lots of twists and turns but interesting end.

  25. This was an interesting one doc. To think of the extent to which people will go to alter something that exists only in their minds?

    Btw just one question: Is too much of exercising harmful? Are you prone to heart diseases by working out a lot…?

  26. Nova,
    Hi! Long time.
    Too much of exercising may be harmful to the joints or to the heart, if done unwisely. For example, too much stress is given to working out in the treadmill, which can damage your knee joints. It would be better to do rowing or working on a cross-trainer. A good trainer who understands exercise dynamics and the science is a great asset. If you meet one, take him out for dinner! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s