Ethics and/or Aesthetics? Reflections on Cosmetic Surgery for Adolescents

Cuad Bioet. 2018 May-Aug;29(96):177-189.


Cosmetic surgery entails various ethical issues, even more so in cases involving adolescent patients. Cosmetic surgeons need to take into account how modern societies consider physical appearance an essential component of everyday life, as well as the vulnerability of youths and adolescents. For that reason, it is imperative to thoroughly assess the psychological and emotional states, in addition to the motivations, of minor patients. That goal can be achieved through the use of the DAS-59, (the Derriford Appearance Scale)1 , an effective and dependable tool devised to evaluate the psychological difficulties and distress experienced by people living with problems of appearance. Prior to undergoing cosmetic surgery procedures, adolescents should be required to go through adequate counseling, over multiple sessions and extended to their family members as well, on account of the complex issues inherent in evaluating the risk-benefit ratio and a prospective patient's decision-making capability. A concerted effort on the part of surgeons, psychiatrists or psychologists is key in determining the real motivations behind a minor's decision to opt for cosmetic surgery in the first place. Possible psychiatric conditions may in fact prevent a minor from making a free, informed decision. From an ethical standpoint, cosmetic surgery procedures should be geared to serve the best interest of the minor patient, who may experience distress over his or her body image, from a health and psychological balance perspective and improve his or her social, affective and working life. Besides, cosmetic surgery should not be overly invasive compared to its potential benefits. Those procedures aimed at achieving ″ideal beauty″ are not desirable and ought to be banned. By virtue of such criteria, the authors have set out to evaluate the ethical admissibility of some aesthetic treatments. Thus, doctors should not consent to any request coming from their patients, but rather, intervene only in presence of an objective physical flaw or deformity, e.g. protruding ears, which have a potential to negatively affect social life and interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cosmetic Techniques / ethics*
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / ethics*
  • Professional-Family Relations