04 November 2011


Barely a week has gone by since I had a total shoulder replacement but I am already able to type fluidly on a remote keyboard. The shoulder is the latest technology, made of metal and plastic, and is indicative of other parts that may eventually be replaceable. In this connection there is a story today about a doctor who has developed a technique that can turn brown eyes blue by using a laser. The laser essentially burns away brown pigmentation, but the process cannot be done in reverse so that eye color cannot be changed back. Brown is the default state in nature but there are about five hundred million people with blue eyes, all descended from a single ancestor who had a genetic mutation 10,000 years ago. They may soon be joined by others using this process.

Our bodies are becoming increasingly malleable as medical science progresses and it will be interesting to see what else can be changed. This will be accompanied by more genetic programming of the fetus to be rid of childhood diseases, if you view it positively, or produce "designer babies" if you view it negatively, and many ailments that plague us later in life may be attenuated in advance rather than through subsequent treatments. This will mean healthier and longer lives for those coming into the world. The rest of us will have to settle for medical attention, whether through drugs or surgery.

The only problem with these developments is the cost and who is going to pay for it. Logically a life-threatening organ replacement should be covered; a cosmetic procedure like changing eye color should not. Such continued advances will occur unless the government interferes with them and decides what constitutes health care for everyone. But whatever changes occur physically, imperfect human nature will remain the same in the brief moment in which our species has existed.

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