Physicians, including cosmetic surgeons, have many responsibilities that are inherent with their professions. Included in these are the decisions that the surgeon must make when deciding if and how to do a certain medical procedure. They must first of all make certain to ensure the health and safety of their patient while performing a procedure successfully. But should cosmetic surgeons also be handed the responsibility to decide if a certain surgery is morally suspect or an immoral request to change ones appearance? Margaret Olivia Little, author of Cosmetic Surgery, Suspect Norms, and the Ethics of Complicity, argues that cosmetic surgeons should be responsible for filtering out morally suspect cases and refusing to do surgeries that may not be moral. She has come up with a post modernist view on this subject. I, however, agree with the more modernist mainstream model. I feel that it should not be the responsibility of the surgeon to decide what is moral and what isn t when approached by a patient who may request a surgery.
The surgeon has a certain amount of responsibility when asked to perform a surgery. Their primary concern should be whether or not this surgery is going to have an adverse effect on the patient s health. Why should the surgeon be bothered with whether or not the procedure is going to have an adverse effect on society? It would disrupt the concentration of the physician if they had to spend time thinking about whether or not the surgery is morally right. When a surgeon is preparing to do a surgery their focus should be on how they are going to do it and what precautions are necessary to ensure the safety of the patient and not is this the moral thing to do? Similarly when a surgeon is performing a surgery their attention should be focused on the task at hand and not did I make the right decision about whether or not to do this? Putting the responsibility of shaping societies morals on the surgeon is not right.
The surgeons who perform these operations are not in the wrong. Little argues that the surgeons are out to turn women into Barbie dolls (Little 171, 172) and rake in the money while they are at it. First of all the surgeons are not the ones who created the demand for cosmetic surgery. Rather the demand for surgery created a demand for surgeons. The surgeons do not trick the patients into opting for a surgery that they don t want; rather they offer it to people who are already actively looking for it.
Who is to say anyway that it is immoral to want to change one s appearance? Further who is supposed to make the decisions as to which cases are considered morally suspect? Many people have many different moral beliefs. What is immoral to one person may not be to another. So the decisions made by one person that sets the guidelines for these types of morally questionable surgeries may be too strict for some or not strict enough for others. Even if there were specific guidelines set up they would be almost impossible to follow because of the vast number of different cases that come up in these types of surgeries. It would be impossible to come up with rules that everyone would agree with.
Little herself, seems to have trouble drawing the line between the morally suspect cases and the ones that are reasonable requests. She lists four different examples that would all resemble typical requests for surgeries. She uses her post-modernist models to make the decisions for these people. The first is a man who lives in a society in which a double chin is what makes one attractive. This man however does not have a double chin so he would like to have a surgical implant to give him one. The second is a child whose ears stick out from his head. Because of this he is subject to relentless taunting by other children. He is looking to surgery to tuck his ears in closer to his head. The third case is a black man who believes that he could be more successful if he had a more European look so he is pursuing surgery to make himself look whiter. The fourth and final case that Little talks about is a size 8 woman who would like surgery to make herself have a more super-model like appearance. Now given these four cases, which ones should be considered morally suspect and which are reasonable requests for cosmetic surgery? Little believes that the man with the single chin should be granted his surgery because he is suffering because he doesn t fit with societies ideals. She also believes that the child should be able to have an ear tuck since he is suffering from being different looking than everyone else. Little says that the black man and the woman should be denied their surgeries though. She says that they should NOT be granted their surgeries because they only want them to fit in with their societies preferences. This seems contradictory to the first or second case though. There, Little said, that the man and the boy SHOULD be able to have surgery because they doesn t fit societies ideals. Little is clearly just as confused as anyone else would be in trying to decide whom to grant cosmetic surgery. Why should we put such difficult decisions on the surgeons? The surgeons need to spend their time concentrating on the health and safety of the patient.
It is clear that morally suspect cases are hard to discern from morally acceptable ones. It is also clear that the cosmetic surgeons should not be held responsible for filtering the two or for shaping societies morals. They are responsible for helping the patient make an educated decision on what they want done to their body and make sure they understand the risks involved. Most importantly the surgeon should be concerned with the health and safety of the patient. The last thing on their mind should be how is this surgery going to affect society? The modernistic standard practice that cosmetic surgeons follow today should be the way that they continue to practice. They should not be burdened with the post-modernists moral issues or be responsible for shaping societies standards or norms.