Ethics With Em: Therapy vs. Enhancement

Like several of the other topics that we covered in my social ethics class, therapy vs. enhancement never really crossed my mind in concrete terms until we dealt with it in class and I feel that it was too broad of a topic to make one general consensus on.  To learn more about the technical side of this topic, read this staff working paper by the bioethics department at Georgetown University.

According to this document,”a therapy, roughly defined, is a treatment for a disorder or deficiency, which aims to bring an unhealthy person to health. An enhancement is an improvement or extension of some characteristic, capacity, or activity.”

Before I go further, I would like to acknowledge that many people have strong opinions for or against vaccinations for various reasons, however, I do not have a developed opinion on them in a medical sense, but am only discussing how they should be qualified in this ethical debate.

I took part in a huge discussion on whether vaccines are therapy or enhancement. The group struggled to decide which category vaccines fell into because it does not clearly fit into either category.  By definition, the vaccine would be closer to fit in to the enhancement category since it is improving characteristics of the immune system. One could also say that it is preventative therapy since the vaccine introduces a substance to a cause a reaction in the immune system to help it do its job.

The only general consensus we could come to was that most of us would take measures of therapy over enhancement when making a medical decision for ourselves or for a loved one.

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Something that I had thought about was the ethics behind cosmetic plastic surgery.  Living in South Florida and going to a private high school, girls were meeting with plastic surgeons soon after their 18th birthdays. If I had a dollar for every girl who told me that her mom was buying her new boobs or a nose for a prom or graduation present, I could afford to go under the knife myself. I think it is kind of crazy that young girls are so concerned with how their bodies look.  I am all for following a healthy diet and exercise plan to have a toned or shapely body if that is what you believe makes the best version of you, but once you start using machines to start sucking out fat, tightening skin, and injecting foreign materials, are you really you?

This all ties back to the difference between a human being and a human person.  According to some cultures, you need the being nature to have the person nature, and cosmetic enhancement surgery is altering the being. 

I have bounced around the thought that it is what is on the inside (your heart/soul/spirit) that makes you YOU, but I am still not certain that I think this sort of enhancement is ethical. (To make this clear, I believed that getting cosmetic surgery did not make a difference because I believed that the physical matter of a human was just a vessel for spirits to roam in the physical world, therefore altering these vessels did not change the spirit.) I now would say that the body and spirit are both essential to the personhood, but the existence of the physical matter is valued high above the appearance of the physical matter.

The entire issue of cosmetic enhancement is one that has really been created by rarely attainable beauty standards set by our society.  There seem to be set ideas of what is beautiful and perfect, but no backing as to how or why these standards came to be.  Girls and women tend to jump to try to change who they are to conform to these ridiculous standards, rather than accepting themselves.  (Of course, males face these issues too but I believe it is to a much lesser degree.  I have not heard of many men getting breast implants, Brazilian butt lifts, or Botox.)

I personally recognize my flaws, both in my personality and in my physical body, but I have accepted that it is who I am and who I was made to me.  I can work on bad habits and try to make them better, but I cannot really change those things and remain who I am.  To get cosmetic enhancement surgery would be altering the flesh that my life has been breathed into, thus changing who I am, as well.



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