Cosmetic surgery: is it ethical for clinics to offer surgery to anyone who can pay?

Cosmetic surgery: is it ethical for clinics to offer surgery to anyone who can pay?

A glance at any celebrity news mag makes our growing fascination with cosmetic surgery painfully apparent. The appeal is equally obvious: this is an industry that allows men and women to change their looks forever - as long as they can scrape together the cost of a procedure.
These costs are becoming ever more accessible as new financing options are created to entice budget-wary consumers; prominent examples include American medical loan provider United Medical Credit announcing plastic surgery financing for people with low credit ratings, and the popularity of cosmetic surgery "holidays," where low-cost procedures are included in a vacation abroad. It's clear that today's cosmetic surgery sector exists to serve consumers, but has it forgotten that these people are also patients? When business meets medicine, one cannot help but wonder if the customer should always be right.
The conflict between business and medical ethics in the cosmetic surgery industry was discussed at length during the most recent series of popular BBC reality show The Apprentice. This year's winner, Dr. Leah Totton, will receive a £250,000 investment from Alan Sugar to launch a chain of cosmetic medicine clinics specialising in non-invasive procedures, including dermal fillers and skin peels. When questioned by Lord Sugar as to whether or not she would be willing to turn away potential customers, Dr. Totton spoke emphatically about the need for higher ethical standards within the industry. 
Since Dr. Totton's plans were unveiled, however, industry experts have been quick to raise concerns. A spokesman for the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has warned that with so little field experience, Leah is hardly qualified to perform the services she plans to offer, let alone train new practitioners. The industry is already battling a lack of regulation that allows outpatient cosmetic procedures to be performed outside clinical environments and without medical training. 
Equally worrying is the reality that these outpatient cosmetic procedures require regular "topping up." The numbers show that the market for cosmetic procedures is experiencing massive growth, with its £750 million worth in 2005 expected to multiply to £3.6 billion in 2015. Repeat custom for non-invasive procedures has a worrying echo of the plastic surgery "addictions" of Heidi Montag and Alicia Douvall. Montag famously blamed her surgery addiction on her doctor, claiming that he failed to inform her adequately of the risks and outcomes associated with her procedures.

In light of the Keogh Report findings, it is evident that patients must be better informed and procedures better regulated. When patients are treated first and foremost as consumers, they may fail to grasp the risks of a cosmetic "transformation." Elective surgery should not be entered into lightly as a permanent fix for body insecurity: buying tummy control swimwear from, for example, is a harmless way to enhance your figure, but seeing liposuction as the next logical step is seriously dangerous.
Cosmetic surgery clinics clearly need to refocus on medical ethics, redefining consumers as patients once more. Medicine, not business, should be the priority, so let the buyer beware: the doctor is always right.

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