Blog | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The rights and wrongs of child plastic surgery


I've always been horrified by babies who even have their ears pierced, so I expected to be self-righteously certain about the cases in the new Hastings Center Report on cosmetic procedures for children (mostly subscription-only, unfortunately). In fact, it raised a lot of fascinating, unanswerable questions. For example, if many Asians choose to have blepharoplasty to widen their eyes, is it more wrong for a white adoptive father to elect the surgery for his adopted Asian daughter?

Or what's the right course of action when a young child identifies with the opposite gender, or even more complicated, has ambiguous genitalia? Medical intervention could likely make life easier for them, but not if their gender identification changed at a later date.

The issue also revisits the case of Ashley, the profoundly disabled girl whose parents requested surgery and therapy to prevent her from going through puberty. Although this is cited as "most controversial case" in the field, it actually seems the easiest to answer. The writing experts all seemed to agree, too, that no argument about messing with nature or Ashley's sovereignty could outweigh the expected positive effects on her and her parents' well-being.

Makes deciding whether to let your 17-year-old get a nose job seem easy.