Why the cosmetic surgery industry needs a makeover

26 March 2014

Cosmetic surgery and the law
Cosmetic surgery and the law

Cosmetic surgery has seemingly never been more popular but Australians who go under the knife here or overseas have little protection or recourse when things go wrong, new University of Sydney research shows.

The research by Sydney Law School PhD candidate Louise Cauchi shines a light on the growth of the cosmetic surgery industry and reveals a pressing need for regulation and better public awareness of its risks.

"The current stance is that any registered medical practitioner with a basic medical degree can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon without the surgical training qualifications of the Fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. The general public is not aware of that," said Ms Cauchi.

In the absence of regulation, standards differ - sometimes with alarming results. There is a range of potential complications that can occur, such as scarring, encapsulation of breasts, permanent disfigurement, infection, pain and altered sexual sensations.

Cosmetic procedures are being delivered in a variety of settings, including public and private hospitals, day surgeries and in some cases in doctors' offices, the research found.

In 2012, the Health Care Complaints Commission banned a New South Wales surgeon from the practice of cosmetic surgery for six months after he inappropriately suggested breast uplift surgery where no inquiry or request had ever been made by the patient. In that case, the patient developed post-surgical complications, including infection and scarring of the breast.

"The public need to do their research - there are some very good doctors out there who are trained, for example, plastic surgeons, and provide a professional service" said Ms Cauchi.

"For doctors, there needs to be regulation of appropriate experience in surgical training and hygiene. Doctors also need to be educated to be able to detect somebody who has got a psychological issue or disorder, such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and not perform on them."

The research also raises important questions around consent for cosmetic surgery, which go to the heart of issues of personhood, self-image and the outer limits of body modification and explores the rise of cosmetic surgery tourism and male elective procedures.

A 2012 report commissioned by the Australian Health Ministers' Conference urged a national framework for the cosmetic surgery industry in Australia, but its call has as of yet gone unanswered.

Contact: Luke O'Neill

Phone: 02 9114 1961, 0481 012 600

Email: 2a244017604008082e140d2739150f0b04567a345742670f1d