The endocrinologist ... claim[ed] she was "inundated" with affluent parents seeking human growth hormone (HGH) for their short, but otherwise healthy, children. The requests now constitute roughly half of her caseload, she reported. Even parents of kids whose heights are in the 40th percentile – just barely below average – have been demanding HGH.
This trend ... appears to be centered in wealthier areas of the United States.
It's easy to see why. HGH treatments generally last three to five years and cost upwards of $300,000. And they do work. Studies show the average boost to height is 3.5 to 7.5 centimeters (1.4 to 2.8 inches)
The FDA has allowed its use in kids with growth hormone deficiency since 1985. In 2003, the agency broadened HGH's availability to kids with "Idiopathic Short Stature" (ISS), in other words, kids who are short with no clear cause. ISS does not have a regulated definition, however so doctors can legally prescribe HGH [to practically anyone].
The present HGH conundrum may be just a taste of other rapidly approaching ethical debates. With the ascendance of genetic engineering, radical life extension, and human augmentation, some experts are concerned that wealthy individuals could biologically diverge from the rest of society. Does wealth entitle someone to additional intelligence, longer life, or boosted physical prowess? Are these qualities even desirable if attained through purchased enhancement? These difficult questions could loom larger in the near future.