Melvin Konner

Melvin Konner, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and associate professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at Emory University, is the author of The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit.

Recent Articles

One Pill Makes You Larger

The development of human growth hormone and antidepressants like Prozac has already begun to blur the line between “treating” an illness and “enhancing” an otherwise already healthy person, making it difficult for insurance companies to know how and what to pay for.

I n the early 1980s, a little squall blew up on the usually calm sea of pediatrics. Growth hormone had been a rare, expensive medicine, each gram extracted from thousands of pituitary glands and laboriously purified. It was far more precious than gold, and only extremely short children with a proven deficiency in their own growth hormone could hope to get it. Then, in one of the first commercial triumphs of DNA technology, bacteria were persuaded to make human growth hormone. It was purer, more natural to our species, and most important, far less expensive. It wasn't cheap, but it was suddenly accessible to many. Then the other shoe dropped. In the mid-1980s, studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere showed that short children with no growth hormone deficiency could be made a few centimeters taller if they were given human growth hormone. So at the dawn of the age of gene technology, we already faced a decision: Do short children (and their ever-anxious...

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