The flames of bioethical controversy crackle loudest in the media when stem cells or euthanasia or abortion are tossed onto the flames. But tempers can flare over cosmetic surgery as well. In the wake of the Poly Implant Prothèse breast implants scandal, more and more articles are appearing questioning the ethics of procedures whose benefits are largely psychological not medical.
Writing in the New Statesman, Michael Brooks argues that “Cosmetic surgery is nothing more than an industrial-scale scientific experiment”. After 50 years, it is time to question its validity.
“Viewing cosmetic surgery as an experiment means we should also submit it to ethical consideration. The Nuremberg Code governing experimentation on human subjects states that the individual ‘should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved’; that the experiment ‘should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods’; and: ‘Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.’ The great breast augmentation experiment does not meet these standards. Cosmetic breast implantation is a flawed and ethically corrupt psychological experiment, carried out for commercial profit on vulnerable women. And it should now be halted.”
Brooks cites a Norwegian study in the March issue of Psychological Medicine which has dismal news for cosmetic surgeons. Researchers followed about 1,600 adolescent women over 15 years. Those with mental health problems were more likely to have cosmetic surgery, but the procedures did little to help them. On the contrary, they suffered more from anxiety, depression, eating disorders and alcohol abuse.
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