German plastic surgeons at odds on advertising ban

The perfect beach body with cleavage to match. Great breasts for low prices. The figure you’ve always dreamed of.

Cosmetic surgery adverts could come under the knife or even the axe in Germany, under legislation proposed by the Health Ministry to curb a huge rise in operations and a growing demand among young people.

Many of Germany’s leading surgeons said on Friday they support the proposal that they hope will deter irresponsible practitioners, although one professional association disagrees.

Germany has the sixth highest rate of cosmetic surgery behind the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Japan and Spain, and increasingly Germans are travelling to Hungary or the Czech Republic for treatment on the cheap.

According to industry figures there were 360,000 plastic surgery operations in 2002, compared to just 20,000 in 1990.

The Association of German Plastic Surgeons said at its annual press conference on Friday the ban could help curb a “beauty craze” driving people to undergo drastic surgery without proper consideration and encouraging clinics run by doctors without the strict specialist training required.

In Germany there are very strict laws covering how a doctor can become a specialist and a “plastic surgeon,” but if one calls himself a “cosmetic surgeon” or “beauty surgeon” he or she can bypass the rules.

“Advertising does not enlighten patients…they are more than capable of informing themselves if the interest is there,” said Marita Eisenmann-Klein, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Regensburg.

German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt said recently she wanted to ban “misleading and suggestive advertising” in which surgeons failed to mention the risks of treatment and gave the impression of guaranteed success. The proposals would also rule out the use of before and after photos.

Doctors who violate the rules could face fines of up to 50,000 euros or one year in prison.

Guenter Germann, professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Heidelberg University, said such photos set a visual contract and gave people unrealistic expectations.

“They attract people by showing something a doctor may be able to achieve one time in ten,” he said.

But one surgeons’ association is convinced Schmidt has taken the wrong approach.

“Of course we support any move to protect patients from unqualified doctors and false expectations. But curbing advertising will only drive patients blindly into the arms of charlatans,” Rolf Kleinen, president of the German Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, said in a statement.

Without “before” and “after” photos patients would only know of the extremes, and would be poorly informed of what surgery was capable of, he said.

The United Kingdom also plans to curb its booming cosmetic surgery industry by banning unqualified doctors from practicing.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.