Should we allow cosmetic surgery on our children?
I read an article that an advertisement had been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority because it could be seen to be promoting cosmetic surgery in children and young adults under the age of 18. I completely understand the ruling and I am sure that to most people this would seem perfectly reasonable. However, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed in the continuous negative portrayal of cosmetic surgery.
I sometimes get asked by people if I would ever consider cosmetic surgery for my wife or my children or one of my family members. I find this quite an odd question because I look at cosmetic surgery the same way that I look at any other type of surgery. As a plastic surgeon I have been trained in all aspects of plastic surgery before I specialised in both cosmetic and reconstructive breast surgery. I see myself as a doctor who sees patients in the clinic and tries to help them if I can.
Would I consider cosmetic surgery?
If I needed it, then yes but if I did not, of course not. I see it in the same way as whether I need surgery for a hernia or polyps in my bowel or aching or painful joints.
If I had a problem and surgery could help me with that problem, then I would definitely consider it. If I did not have a problem, then of course there would be no need for me to consider surgery. I hear so often that cosmetic surgery is unnecessary.
Again I understand the statement but I would argue that it is always necessary in that there is a patient who feels that they would benefit from it in some way. It may not be essential but then hardly any surgery is essential.
Should cosmetic surgery be performed on children?
Going back to cosmetic surgery in children, if you ask me, should cosmetic surgery be performed on children, I would answer in the same way. If it is necessary and in the best interest of the child then definitely yes, if not, then no.
Cosmetic surgery in children is actually quite common and is performed every day. Children born with a cleft lip often suffer no functional problems and do not need to have it repaired except for the cosmetic consequences. In fact in many countries where access to medical treatment is more limited there are healthy adults with unrepaired cleft lips. Similarly prominent ear correction is something that is frequently performed on children aged between six and ten.
This is quite normal practice. I often see children who may have large and unsightly moles or skin blemishes and are teased at school and again, no one would question the benefits in removing these.
It comes back to the perception of cosmetic surgery as being breast implants being put into shallow and vain women to make them look out of proportion and like a cartoon character but this is not what cosmetic surgery is about.
Yes, the news stories always feature individuals like this because if the media reported on a vast majority of patients, normal mums or anxious young women who have always felt uncomfortable and out of proportion, then there would be no news story at all.
Cosmetic Breast Surgery
When it comes to cosmetic breast surgery I would not be inclined to operate on someone under 18 for practical reasons rather than ethical reasons. The breasts may not have stopped growing and ideally you would want to minimise the number of operations the patient has and would want to operate on a stable playing field. Furthermore, breast surgery often involves implants and these are a long term commitment and one that I would not advise anyone takes lightly, especially a young person with many years ahead of them.
I do not think we need to protect our young people from cosmetic surgery but I do think we need to protect everybody, young and old, from having surgery if it is not in their best interest. We should be promoting lengthy in-depth consultations with the surgeon who will be performing the procedure.
We should be educating patients to understand the qualifications and experience of a surgeon to make sure that they are working within their scope of practice. We should be encouraging access to the surgeon to make sure all questions are answered and all alternatives have been discussed prior to undergoing any procedure and we should be doing this for everybody. I do not necessarily think we need to protect our children from cosmetic surgery or cosmetic surgeons.
Plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery is an amazing force..
for good and can transform lives and relieve great pain and suffering. Just because it is often psychological pain and suffering does not make it any less worthy. I do not think we need to protect patients from cosmetic surgeons but we do need to protect patients from unethical or poorly trained surgeons and we need to empower them so that hopefully they can tell the difference.