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A matter of height or heart?

September 16th, 2003 · 1 Comment

This article in the Seattle Times about the FDA’s approval of smaller children receiving growth hormone injections this past week stirred up some strong feelings inside me. I’m sure my memories played a part. Immediately I saw pictures from the past.

Years ago my brother received growth hormone injections. This was in the days before the hormone could be synthesized: he was given cadaver extracts. He had to get a shot in his buttocks – I don’t remember how often. What I do remember is lots of screaming and sometimes even a bit of bleeding, all in our hallway bathroom. I remember my parents passing the vial, when my father would come to pick us up for the weekend and my mom would give him the extract, in a Ziploc baggie, taken from the fridge. It came along in Dad’s car with us kids, along with the baggage, tension and syringes.

I’m not sure how much it helped him anyway. I don’t think I was there for the dr. appts. but I remember my mom telling me how they measured the end of his bones, how much cartilage was left, and knew he had entered early puberty (due to the brain tumor he’d had as a baby) hence the hormone shots, to help him grow taller while he still could, before his bones hardened. At the end of his growth, at his adult height, he came up to my chest when I hugged him. I’m sure it did help him some. But it is not as if he ever reached a “normal” height. And all this effort, all this pain, syringes and extract given, but my brother died at 26.

So I have painful memories of hGH. And it’s not as if I am in a good position to speak about height. At 5’7″ I am considered tall for a woman, the 90th percentile or so, depending on the chart. I am though the shortest one in my family for two generations, with the exception of my retarded brother. My husband’s family has some petite genes and we shall see how our girls grow. It is possible that they may not be very tall in height although as babies they have all been above average.

Yet I wonder if giving growth hormone to children is the solution to the problem. Is it a matter of height or of heart? An interesting juxtaposition yet again – this article was next to one describing three women on a shopping spree in Seattle and one is quoted as saying :

“When you feel like you’re taller and elongated, you feel better about yourself,” she said. “When you’re 5-4, I’ll take any inch I can get.”

How much is it worth to “take any inch”? As another article “Will He Measure Up?” in Newsweek’s September 22 issue posed the question: is it worth $25,000 an inch? Is it worth paying the price – of money and injections?

Certainly our culture is fixated on height. It is part of how we define beauty. Power, perhaps. And it is certainly helpful. in a practical sense: driving a car, shopping for clothes, doing chores around the house, playing certain sports – and some might argue even finding a mate, getting a job and making friends – are all made easier by height.

The Seattle Times article states, regarding the FDA approval:

The FDA’s deliberations on Humatrope went beyond the traditional confines of technical reports about a drug’s safety and effectiveness. The FDA also reviewed various research that showed how short people are more likely to be bullied and teased in school, to consider themselves lonely, to have reduced marriage rates and to be perceived as having lower competence than people of ordinary height.

But why is it that shorter people are more likely to be bullied and lonely? Would it not be better, instead of using science to confirm these social stereotypes, to try to change them instead? The article mentions a family with a smaller daughter who instead of using hormones, started a website to fight bullying .

While I am a proponent of using science and medicine to bring healing, I wonder whether giving growth hormone to children who seem to be smaller than normal, as the FDA has now approved, is harming society as a whole. What if, instead of trying to change height, we tried to change hearts? Which is easier to change?

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 enoch // Sep 17, 2003 at 1:11 am

    i’ve got the same worries about natalie, since she dropped 2 curves on the growth chart, and was below the 1st %ile. but tania brought nally to a pediatrician in singapore who said she’s at 3%ile for singaporean kids, which natalie’s hopefully more like. i secretly hope that natalie will share our height, rather than inheriting shorter genes, which is very much possible given our asian heritage. it’s very hard to change other’s hearts, but we can inculcate a good self-image so that however other’s hearts are, our kids will turn to Jesus for their self-worth.