The movie industry loves this kind of stuff. A criminal or a spy enters the plastic surgeon’s back door looking like one person and leaves through the front door looking completely different. A new nose, a stronger chin, bigger lips, brighter eyes, and how about a new set of breasts and a skinnier tummy. And, for good measure, maybe altered fingerprints.
While the fodder of fiction, all of these things are certainly possible. In fact, recently, a criminal on the FBI’s most wanted list allegedly changed his appearance to elude the authorities. Plastic surgeons are in the business of changing appearance. Most commonly, that means restoring a younger appearance or reducing objectionable features. But sometimes, patients want to look like other people. Or they no longer want to look like themselves. And so a trip to the plastic surgeon becomes a method to evade friends or enemies, family, the police or the press.
There’s been speculation lately that Casey Anthony, the mother who was found not guilty of murdering her child, might want to change her appearance. She’s so notorious it might indeed be difficult to return to any sort of normal life. With a change of name (that’s easy) and a change of appearance (not so easy), she might be able to blend in to another life.
But what plastic surgeon would be willing to change her appearance? Would you? The Medical Research Unit at The Dr. Oz Show asked 32 plastic surgeons from around the country if they would. Turns out that only five said they would perform the surgery and the vast majority – 27 – said they would not change her appearance.
These responses were certainly a surprise to me. And this really raises a lot of ethical questions. I don’t know a plastic surgeon that would knowingly change the appearance of a fugitive so he could better elude the law. And fingerprint altering would be a criminal act by the surgeon. But while Casey Anthony’s case is high profile, there are countless numbers of people each year that would probably like to escape their lives and start over. Some of those might have had a bad marriage, some might have done something so embarrassing they can’t face anyone they know, and some might have been acquitted of a crime.
Is it the plastic surgeon’s right to deny an elective cosmetic procedure to someone trying to change their appearance? Certainly, plastic surgeons cannot be compelled to operate on people who are psychologically or medically inappropriate candidates for surgery, as long as they do not discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.
So what’s the bottom line? Do patients have a right to have cosmetic surgery? Is it fair to deny a healthy, psychologically appropriate person a new start … or a new nose? Tough questions. But in a free country, as long as a plastic surgeon does not aid a crime, violate the law, or discriminate against people, he may choose which cases to perform. There certainly will be a difference of opinion among plastic surgeons as to whether they would operate on Casey Anthony, but there really is no right or wrong answer to this difficult question.