Stop plastic surgery on people with disabilities

by Ivano Abbadessa - 2012.09.04
Stop plastic surgery on people with disabilities
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Can recourse to plastic surgery – only for aesthetic reasons - on children with disabilities, in particular with Down syndrome, be considered as ethically justifiable? According to the Bioethics National Committee (CNB), led by Prof. Francesco Paolo Casavola, the answer is no. The opinion expressed in the last few weeks by the Committee on the “bioethics aspects of aesthetic and reconstructive surgery” follows years of debates triggered by two cases occurred in the UK, where the mother of a Down's syndrome baby put her daughter through surgery in order to "erase" disability traits.

The sixteen pages containing the judgement expressed by the CNB are articulated into two parts tackling cosmetic and reconstructive surgery both from the point of view of legitimacy and aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. In particular, the Committee estimates that “aesthetic surgery on children with Down's syndrome, aimed at adjustment to social canons of ‘normality’ cannot be considered as legitimate, especially when having a pervasive and painful component. This kind of surgery hardly brings benefits to people affected by the Down's syndrome; it is instead more likely to increase patients' personal unease.”

The contribution given by the most accredited Italian bioethics institution, certainly sheds light on a very delicate issue, concerning painful invasive operations on human beings. The judgement was welcomed with favour by the same associations for people with Down's syndrome, which declared absolutely against this type of surgery, unjustified unless for health or medical reasons.

Far from doing any moralism, the need or egoism of some parents when putting their children through painful surgery – meant to have them "normal" rather than looking at their happiness –  leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. There is no evidence, in fact, that plastic surgery improves the self-acceptance of a person or child affected by this syndrome. In contrast, the aspect mutation is often counter-productive for the development of their identity.

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