The General Medical Council has proposed a series of guidelines for cosmetic surgery, including a mandatory cooling-off period between the initial consultation and committing to the procedure.
This is the culmination of an ongoing effort on the part of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) and the British Association of Plastic Surgeons (Baps) to educate the public, including the understanding that cosmetic surgery is real surgery.
But it’s a struggle as patients frame their cosmetic surgeries as consumer rather than medical choices and surgeons are well aware that their patients often are deciding between breast implants and a summer holiday or a down payment on a new car.
In 2011, Groupon was censured for a promotional email offering discounted breast implants from a clinic in Manchester to those who signed up “by midnight.” Baaps and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) maintained that it was unethical to market a medical procedure with significant risks as if it were a visit to a spa or a discounted entrée at a new restaurant.
A cooling-off period certainly makes sense. After all, dazzled by the prospect of a great deal on, say, a tummy-tuck, the patient is distracted from the medical fine print about haematomas, scarring, and death. The GMC is also taking measures to enable consumers to check the qualifications of everyone practising cosmetic surgical and non-surgical (fillers, Botox) procedures. But, typically, the less-qualified practitioners charge less and so even well-informed patients, who could not otherwise pay for the interventions they crave, might go with what’s affordable.
So how long should the cooling off period be? Dr Neal R Reisman, president of the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation, the research and education arm of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, says that a red flag for plastic surgeons is someone who has experienced recent trauma – say, a divorce, loss of a job, or the death of a spouse or child, and is in search of a quick fix for her pain. In such cases, thoughtful surgeons recommend that the patient wait a few months and reconsider.
Often the patient’s conviction that they can heal the inside through manipulating the outside reveals that choosing cosmetic interventions is never rationally motivated. There are so many other ways to try and feel better so what led them to the cosmetic surgeon’s door in the first place? And what about the more general and arguably cumulative trauma, of not being good-looking enough in a society preoccupied with physical appearance? What is the recommended waiting period for that?
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