Australian State Bans Cosmetic Surgery for Teens

With one Australian state's announcement that cosmetic surgery will soon be banned for most teenagers, some surgeons in the United States applauded the move, saying similar legislation in this country would make sense.

Others, however, said such a move here would do little if any good — and it could even make it more difficult for kids who have a legitimate need for cosmetic procedures to get the surgery they desire.

The decision, which was made late last week, would place cosmetic surgery and tanning beds out of the reach of those under 18 in Queensland, beginning in the middle of this year. The new rule would not affect a teen's ability to have surgery to correct deformities or disfiguring injuries, and it would still leave room for an undefined list of procedures to improve medical, psychological or social well-being.

But, in most cases, appearance-centered procedures like breast implants and liposuction will be off the table.

"This is not about becoming a nanny state," Premier Anna Bligh told parliament on Thursday, according to the Australian paper "The Age."

"I appreciate that this can be a difficult time, especially in a young woman's development, but to resort to a surgeon's blade is an adult response best left until one is an adult."

The move has already received the blessing of the Australian Society for Plastic Surgeons, Australia's preeminent professional plastic surgery professional organization.

In the United States, many plastic surgeons said such a ban makes sense. Dr. Pete Costantino, a craniofacial specialist and reconstructive surgeon at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, called the ban a "great idea."

"If they aren't old enough to sign their own surgical consent for a medically necessary procedure, then they shouldn't be able to induce their parents to do it for cosmetic surgery — which is a personal, subjective, value-based decision, not a decision of medical necessity," he said.

"The percentage of teens having surgery is low; however, I fear television showing [young female celebrities] and their antics as well as others will have a tendency to increase the numbers," Atlanta plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Maloney said. "As we have seen a boom of cosmetic procedures as a result of reality TV shows. It is unfortunate that a parent would consider letting a 16-year-old daughter have a breast augmentation."

But others worry that similar legislation, if it ever comes to pass in the United States, would draw a largely arbitrary line — and could needlessly restrict some teens from procedures that would help their self-esteem.

Dr. Malcolm Z. Roth, director of plastic surgery at Maimondes Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he believes that some teens are intelligent and mature enough to comprehend the risks and benefits of cosmetic surgery.

"I believe the government should stay out of the mix, and I would encourage patients to seek out the advice of a board-certified plastic surgeon who is trained in not just the surgical aspects of cosmetic surgery, but just as important, the psychological aspects of the decision," he said. "If the teenager is not a good candidate, for physical or psychological reasons, the physician is the best one to make that determination."

"The age 18 is an unrealistic marker," agreed Dr. Garry S. Brody, professor emeritus of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.

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