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Mason Institute Investigates Season 2 Episode 3: Peace by Piece: Legal Regulation of Cosmetic Procedures

Welcome back for another episode of the Mason Institute Investigates podcast. Today’s guest is Professor Jean McHale (Twitter: @JeanMcHale2), healthcare lawyer and Director of the Centre of Health Law, Science and Policy at the University of Birmingham. In this episode, Professor McHale talks about the main themes of the regulation of cosmetic surgery explored in her book co-authored with Dr Melanie Latham, called “The Regulation of Cosmetic Procedures: Legal, Ethical and Practical Challenges”.

Professor McHale addresses various ethical issues associated with the rise in cosmetic procedures, including autonomy, feminist ethics, and discrimination.

“… is this ethically justified because it comes under the principle of beneficence? Is this fulfilling that broader, more complete sense of health as in the World Health Organisation’s terms complete physical, mental, and social well-being? Is this looking better equals feeling better? Could it be seen as healing psychologically? And in terms of improved self-esteem for somebody as well?”

Professor McHale also discusses how current legislation and regulatory frameworks pertaining to cosmetic surgery and cosmetic procedures are fragmentary and suggests a central regulatory body to oversee cosmetic procedures and cosmetic surgeries; notwithstanding the fact that cosmetic procedures are essentially a business.

“So what Melanie Latham and I in terms of our work in the area have suggested that really, there needs to be more comprehensive legislation. And a specific statute regulating cosmetic procedures, both surgical and non-surgical. I mean the sorts of model potentially could be the types of regulatory structures employed by say, the Human Fertilisation Embryology Act 1990; the Human Tissue Act; a statutory regulatory body providing oversight with an independent chair …But also, this has to be recognised, that we’re regulating a consumer business … that we’re not regulating effectively patients in that way. And that affects the dynamic, but it also affects the way in which the regulation is structured as well. It doesn’t mean though, that regulating on a single jurisdictional basis in this way will necessarily solve everything.”

With the governments attempts to address the harmful impact of social media on body image, Professor McHale and Dr Latham’s book presents compelling arguments for the reform and creation of specific legislation and regulatory frameworks surrounding cosmetic procedures.

Listen to the podcast episode on Media Hopper

View the accompanying episode transcript (PDF)

Check out the channel of Mason Institute Investigates for other episodes.

For more information, please see the below links to further resources. Happy listening!

Written by Leyla Noury (Twitter: @dheggacad)

Links and further resources:

Latham, M & McHale, J 2020, The Regulation of Cosmetic Procedures

Legal, Ethical and Practical Challenges, 1st edn, Routledge, London.

Widdows, H 2018, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal, 1st edn, Princeton University Press

Buetow, S & Wallis, K 2019, The Beauty in Perfect Imperfection, Journal of Medical Humanities (40) 389-394

R v BM [2018] EWCA Crim 560


‘Mason Institute Investigates’ is produced and edited by the Mason Institute and made with funding from the Edinburgh Law School.

The intro song is ‘Secret to Success’ by Scott Holmes Music

The outro song is ‘Inspirational Outlook’ by Scott Holmes Music

Both are available under Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons Licence from Free Music Archive

Image by 16198233 from Pixabay

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