Forget Designer Purses, I Want Some Designer Eyeballs

LASIK's been around a while, and somehow it was only a matter of time before designer vision, corneas custom-tailored to lifestyle and career, started to turn common. Could laser eye surgery become the new graduation boob job?

We upgrade, update, and customize nearly everything, so why not our vision too? Reach for the stars and all that jazz. And even the tech fits the theme: some more common optical surgical procedures are actually based on NASA technology:

Wavefront technology, originally developed by NASA to aid the focus of the Hubble Space Telescope on distant stars, measures up to 250 spots in the pupil to provide a precise map of the cornea and iris. This offers the potential to correct problems not addressed by glasses, such as halos around lights at night or glare.

Fighter pilots, snipers, long-distance drivers, politicians, supermodels, and your average Sally or Joe Smith are getting eye surgery. Why? Some are doing it for vanity, to no longer have to wear glasses they may consider unsightly, or contacts that may be a hassle. Others are doing it to advance in their careers: some pilots wouldn't be allowed to fly without meeting certain vision requirements, and others just wantbetter than normal vision.

Gradually it's becoming more and more common for patients to request procedures which will over-correct or modify their corneas with goals other than simple 20/20 vision in mind. Those pilots might want better night vision and the speech givers want to avoid wearing reading glasses and request monovision. That's great, but what about that Yankees catcher who gets surgery to see the balls flying at him better? While no one will care much about other cases, there could eventually be argument that his vision surgery is some form of unfair enhancement.

Potential arguments and debates aside, it's not all just about boosting career aspirations and vanity though. Dr. Julian Stevens of Moorfields Eye Hospital, an expert on laser refractive surgery, gives an example of how "customized" vision helped a patient's quality of life:

"One of my patients led an active life and had high-quality distance vision. When he became paralyzed from the neck down, his world became smaller - reading and television. Spectacles on your nose become painful if you can't shift them." The solution? Mr Stevens made him slightly short-sighted.

I must admit that this particular example made me cringe a little bit. What are the ethics of downgrading someone's vision at his or her request even if it's for an improvement in lifestyle. No matter. There's some great potential for both good and evil in it, so I'll be paying attention to advances in this whole custom-tailored vision trend, because my death glare definitely needs some upgrading. [Times Online]

Photo by bogenfreund