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Eyes Wide Open: Surgery to Westernize the Eyes of an Asian Child The second of six essays on parents’ decisions about children’s bodies.

The speaker was a proud father. To illustrate his comments about a piece of art that celebrated the wonders of modern medicine (and which he had just donated to a local hospital), he told a story about his adopted Asian daughter. He described her as a beautiful, happy child in whom he took much delight. Her life, he told the audience, had been improved dramatically by the miracle of modern medicine. When she joined her new Caucasian family, her eyes, like those of many people of Asian descent, lacked a fold in the upper eyelid, and that lack was problematic—in his view—because it made her eyes small and sleepy and caused them to shut completely when she smiled. A plastic surgeon himself, he knew she did not need to endure this hardship, so he arranged for her to have surgery to reshape her eyes. The procedure, he explained, was minimally invasive and maximally effective. His beautiful daughter now has big round eyes that stay open and shine even when she smiles.

Perhaps this case is rare. Still, it merits consideration. It raises stark questions about the limits of parental choice and the failure of the current model of medical decision-making to take into account the rights of the child.

The speaker was a proud father. To illustrate his comments about a piece of art that celebrated the wonders of modern medicine (and which he had just donated to a local hospital), he told a story about his adopted Asian daughter. He described her as a beautiful, happy child in whom he took much delight. Her life, he told the audience, had been improved dramatically by the miracle of modern medicine. When she joined her new Caucasian family, her eyes, like those of many people of Asian descent, lacked a fold in the upper eyelid, and that lack was problematic—in his view—because it made her eyes small and sleepy and caused them to shut completely when she smiled. A plastic surgeon himself, he knew she did not need to endure this hardship, so he arranged for her to have surgery to reshape her eyes. The procedure, he explained, was minimally invasive and maximally effective. His beautiful daughter now has big round eyes that stay open and shine even when she smiles.

Perhaps this case is rare. Still, it merits consideration. It raises stark questions about the limits of parental choice and the failure of the current model of medical decision-making to take into account the rights of the child.

Alicia Ouellette, "Eyes Wide Open: Surgery to Westernize the Eyes of an Asian Child,"  Hastings Center Report 39, no 1 (2009): 15-18.