Bioethics News

UK think tank to investigate cosmetic procedure industry

A prominent bioethics think tank in the UK, the Nuffield Council for Bioethics, has launched a public inquiry into cosmetic procedure industry and the ethical implications of its rapid growth and diversification. The Council hopes to gather information about a number of areas.

Definitions. What differentiates cosmetic from reconstructive or therapeutic procedures?

Risk: Many clients regard procedures as normal and are not sensitive to the risks involved. A 2013 government report found that “the public is consistently underestimating what is involved in having a cosmetic intervention.”

Normalisation: increasing demand means that some procedures are becoming routine, rather than exceptional. Experts are concerned that beauty is becoming stereotyped, increasing pressure on those whose appearance does not conform to these norms.

Popularity. Why has there been such explosive growth in this sector? The Council lists some possible explanations: “increasing affordability; technological change making more procedures available; the pervasiveness of celebrity culture; the development of digitally manipulated photographs (leading to ever-more unrealistic representations of beauty); the rise in the use of social media (including the trend of postings ‘selfies’ online) and self-monitoring apps; and easier access to pornography depicting unrealistic images of what is normal or desirable. In the context of the UK, these proposed explanations are also embedded in a society where body image is poor compared with other countries.”

Regulation. there is little government regulation of cosmetic enhancement and some unqualified doctors, nurses, dentists and beauty therapists are providing services. Discussion is also needed about demand for services. Should parents be able to authorise cosmetic procedures?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.