Better Living Through Poison

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Botox (the commercial form of the less-friendly-sounding botulinum toxin type A) in eliminating wrinkles between the eyes. The substance, still available by prescription only, has been previously approved to help ease eye muscle disorders and cervical dystonia. Even without explicit FDA approval, it is perfectly legitimate for doctors to prescribe legal drugs for non-approved uses, known in the field as "off label" uses. Still, the FDA's official lack of concern about Botox is heartening.

One could argue -- with validity -- against the aesthetic effect of the Botox anti-wrinkle treatment, likened in the Los Angeles Times to "an expressionless, zombie-like face... a permanent quizzical look and an equally fixed "witch-like" look." But clearly the 855,000 people who used Botox cosmetically last year don't agree.

The freedom to control the visible signs of aging may seem the most frivolous of freedoms, a mere sop to vanity. Breast implants have been attacked along similar lines. But the liberty and the ability to mold our appearances as we wish is vital to the paramount freedom -- the freedom to be who we want to be. That freedom includes not just our actions, personality, and thoughts, but also (and to some most importantly) our appearance.

The taming of this terribly poisonous substance in the service of quick, noninvasive plastic surgery is a triumph of human ingenuity and our ability to mold an often harsh natural world to further our desires. We are moving into a future where human control over our environment and appearance will get deeper and stronger. The Botox approval is an encouraging sign that government might be prepared to step out of the way.

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