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Had your smear test? Good, now you need some cosmetic work

July 17th, 2008

Dr Petra

There’s a really interesting and well discussed paper just out from The Women’s Bioethics Project entitled “Your cervix is normal, now let’s talk about Botox® for those frown lines…Is it ethical for Physicians to add cosmetic procedures to their core practice?”

Although it’s largely based on the US model of healthcare, the paper addresses a number of important issues concerning how the commercialisation of healthcare can potentially lead to unneccessary surgical interventions and financial cost. The cases described focus on women, however they equally apply to men who are also being offered cosmetic surgery on everything from frown line reduction to penis enlargement.

The paper discusses how practitioners, while they may be medics, may not be necessarily qualified to provide the cosmetic interventions offered. This means that women (and men) may be trusting their practitioner to give them botox or other treatments believing the person is qualified to do so – where they may not be. Some critics may go further and argue that even where a person is qualified as a cosmetic surgeon there are still major ethical issues where this is offered to patients with no clear clinical need.

It makes for depressing yet fascinating reading, and it would be nice to think we could have some additional media pickup on this well researched story – rather than the usual promotion of cosmetic rejuvination that seems to fill the pages of our glossy magazines currently.

Clearly the paper is not saying that anyone with a genuine problem should not have surgery (for example reconstructive surgery following injury or disease). However it is fairly clear that ethically practitioners should not profit from creating anxiety in their patients and prescribing unneccessary treatments.

In the UK practitioners working within the NHS are not likely to be subject to exploiting patients in this way, but private practice is a different matter and it may well be that patients here could also be at risk from unscrupulous practitioners who are happy to make money by making their patients feel they need ‘work’.

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