Normal at Any Cost by Christine Cosgrove

Normal at Any Cost tells the scary story of how millions of children served unknowingly and often unwillingly as guinea pigs as doctors used various hormones to make them shorter (girls, mostly in earlier decades when the worry was that tall girls would not be able to find husbands) or taller. The problem is that any drug has side effects, and neither the kids trying to gain a few inches, nor their parents, nor even the doctors (who really should have known better) could have suspected that harvesting human growth hormone from cadavers could result in horrible the Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease spreading to them. And the hormones given to too-tall girls also had drastic side effects by the time they decided to have children.

The book goes well beyond exposing medical carelessness. It describes the anguish of the parents, who often forced reluctant children into treatment; the difficult choices of the doctors, who know that if they deny treatment a patient may simply go elsewhere; the skills of the researchers who maintained better or worse quality control over the complicated manipulations (one of the labs that purified human growth hormone in the US never had a CJD incident!); the pressure of profits on the decisions of pharmaceutical companies, Genentech in this case; and the difficulty in creating guidelines for treatment that’s not lifesaving, especially relevant as we tackle public health care insurance.

I highly recommend the book for a balanced coverage on a sad page in the history of medicine.

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Filed under Non fiction

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