British health secretary Jeremy Hunt has stirred a hornet’s nest by asking National Health Service surgeons to stop performing “purely cosmetic work” on patients. Hunt’s comment may have been prompted by a desire to reduce the financial burden on public health services and there is no disputing the fact that plastic surgery is costly. But he seems to be looking at short-term gain and is in denial of long-term damage, for cosmetic surgery is never purely skin deep. It is not only about people’s looks but also their well-being. While the rich may be visiting plastic surgeons simply to look more attractive, there are millions of poor people in almost every country who had to suffer disfigurement due to wars and other outbreaks of violence and are forced to lead a life of indignity.
The cases of acid attacks which are rising in India and other countries in the neighbourhood underline this point. The governments in civilised societies that respect the right to live with dignity should make every effort to make plastic surgery more affordable. Unfortunately, it is the so-called nose job or other beauty treatment of film stars and other celebrities which receives undue publicity and gives cosmetic surgery a bad name. The surgeons themselves are often to blame because their hankering for recognition can only be fulfilled if they are seen to have “worked” on famous actresses.
But, they can receive even more acclaim if they focus on reconstructive surgery on those who have been involved in serious accidents or have been targets of vicious physical attacks. In a country where dowry deaths and “honour” killings are reported every other day, there are any number of incidents where the victims escape, but only after suffering grievous injuries. It is the plastic surgeon who can help them provided his services are cheap enough. Moreover, it is this aspect of their work which should be highlighted by the medical profession.