Subject Material

Forever Young...

and Pretty All Along

Published: 16.11.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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While human life expectancy in the Stone Age was estimated at about 20 – 34 years the world average life expectancy in 2010 was 67.2. This fantastic increase in life expectancy is not due to biological changes in the human being, but has to do with social and technological advances in sanitation, medicine, nutrition etc. Still, we DO want to live longer – what we DO NOT want is to give up a youthful appearance or an active life. However, it is not possible to be forever young and pretty all along, or...?

In this text the following words are important. You can check your understanding by doing the interactive vocabulary task Forever Young and Pretty All Along.

to defy
to modify
to take its toll
desirable
purchase
combating
rejuvenating
somatic
germline
inheritable
inherent
paramount
schizophrenia

Forever Young

Eos and TitonosEos and Titonos  According to a Greek myth the goddess Eos   asked for eternal life on behalf of her lover Titonos (picture). What she forgot, however, was to ask for him to keep his youth and beauty. Titonos got  older and older and...

In a previous article This Age of Human Enhancement,  we have stated that it is perfectly possible to modify human biology to defy age and to produce desirable traits in a human being. Let's have a look at "modern warfare methods" to conquer the Enemy, i.e. Age, that sooner or later will come to all of us.

We have face-lifts when gravity starts taking its toll on our faces. We have regular Botox injections to rid ourselves of tell-tale wrinkles. We go to salons offering Electrical Muscle Stimulation – a process in which electrodes are fastened to the skin to tone the underlying muscles. We purchase hundreds of dollars worth of skin care products every year – even though we have our doubts as to whether they actually work.

But the most these age-defying methods can achieve is to postpone the outward signs of aging. There is a growing demand for a more direct approach to combating the aging process: research on and development of anti-aging and rejuvenating medicines. We want to double, triple, quadruple the length of our lives! But what consequences would such a long human life span entail for mankind?

Homo Sapiens – Homo ?

By far the most extreme – and controversial - method of altering a living organism is that of genetic modification. This is, simply put, changing the genes of an organism through bio-technology. This can be done in two ways. By what is called somatic cell gene therapy, which is swapping out a bad gene for a good one. This is a method permitted in most countries. Unfortunately, it is still a very difficult technique to get right. The other method, germline gene therapy, is forbidden in most countries. It involves altering a gene within the sperm or egg cell, and alters the traits a child is born with – and these traits are inheritable.

Genetic modification, in other words, has the inherent capacity to alter the human biology itself. It is of paramount importance that extensive research is carried out regarding the long-term implications of this technology –and that it is used wisely. We already know that gene modification will enable us to cure many serious diseases and eliminate conditions like Down’s syndrome and mental disorders like schizophrenia.But can we justify the potential consequences of the use of this technology in order to rid a family of a large nose, hair loss or acne? What do you think?


 

Tasks

Discuss

Look at this fact box with the 2010 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All the cosmetic procedures are performed in the USA:

  • Cosmetic surgery procedures increased almost 9 percent, a total of 1.6 million procedures.
  • Americans spent about $10.7 billion dollars on cosmetic surgery.
  • Women constituted 92% of the total. This was an increase of 164% since 1997.
  • Among the top five procedures among women were: breast augmentation, liposuction, breast reduction, abdominoplasty and eyelid surgery.
  • The number of cosmetic surgery procedures for men was increased by 88% since 1997.
  • The most common procedures among men were: liposuction, rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast reduction and cosmetic ear surgery.
  • Nearly 219,000 cosmetic surgery operations were performed on teenagers from 13 to 19.
  • More than 8,500 breast augmentations were performed on 18 - 19 year old girls.
  • A survey shows that more than half of  Americans approve of cosmetic plastic surgery.
  1. What do these numbers reveal about attitudes to cosmetic plastic surgery in general? Look at the variables for time, gender, age and procedures and discuss your findings. 
  2. Judging from the facts listed above, what ethical issues are raised?

Discuss

  1. Why do think germline gene therapy is highly controversial in many countries?
  2. What are the pros and cons of gene modification? Is it justifiable to adopt these methods to upgrade our physical appearance?
  3. Cosmetic surgery has become increasingly popular among teens. Why do you think?
  4. Are teens mature enough to realize that an operation has permanent effects?

Writing

  1. How important is it to be pretty and who decides what is pretty? Write an essay where you discuss our time's preouccupation with being pretty. You may also discuss the difference between being pretty and being beautiful.
  2. Write an essay where you discuss the following statement: Pretty people have all the advantages, they get the nice jobs and all the attention. It is a hidden apartheid. You may use the heading: The Tyranny of Beauty?
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