Cosmetic surgery was re-commercialized in 1982. Before then, physicians, like other members of learned professions, were exempt from the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. The AMA could enforce bans on advertising because the fiduciary services physicians offered were not considered a commercial trade. Opinion changed in the deregulatory climate of the Reagan years. Hoping to bring down health care costs, the Federal Trade Commission sued the AMA for restraint of trade over their prohibition of advertising. Over the strenuous objections of the AMA and the plastic surgery specialty associations, a split Supreme Court decision let a lower court ruling in favor of the Federal Trade Commission stand [8, 9]. Advertising in medicine returned, with its ethical dilemmas, and cosmetic surgery was once again on the cutting edge.
………The purpose of advertising is to persuade people to do something. The most effective ads appeal to emotions—fears and desires—and associate the subject of the advertisement with highly valued attributes. It is not difficult to persuade people to do something that will give them a more youthful, sexually attractive appearance in a culture that bestows real social and economic rewards on those who possess these traits. The lure of such rewards can make us gullible and impulsive when it comes to buying the promise of beauty.
- Payment in exchange for referral of patients or media coverage
- Exaggerated claims intended to create false expectations of favorable surgical results
- Promotional inclusion of preoperative and postoperative photographs intended to misrepresent results through different lighting, expressions, or manipulated poses
In this commentator’s view, ethical inferences from Web site to practitioner should be suspect. For instance, a former AMA member and Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Jan Adams, surrendered his license to practice medicine on April 1, 2009, after it was suspended in 2008 for failure to pay child support, with prior alcohol-related convictions in 2003 and 2006. The November 10, 2007, death of his patient, Donda West, and his malpractice judgments of $217,337 and $250,000 in 2001 were not factors in his license surrender. Dr. Adams currently has an excellent Web site that makes no reference to any of these public records. Accordingly, “quality” Internet advertising does not guarantee a quality practitioner, and conversely, patients routinely obtain quality results from cosmetic surgeons who do not have “quality” Web sites.
5. ASPS Advertising Code of Ethics and Advertising 101 (in pdf form)
6. Advertising cosmetic surgery: are doctors complying with ethical standards?; Australian Medical Association, June 2002