Should There Be a Minimum Age for Cosmetic Surgery?

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This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Die Welt.

BERLIN — Given the lifelong ramifications involved, choosing whether or not to undergo cosmetic surgery is by definition a serious decision. Yet a fair number of Germany's nip-and-tuck procedures — things like breast enlargement, nose jobs and abdominal liposuction — are performed on children and adolescents.

There is presently no minimum age for such operations, which are either sought by the patients themselves or by their parents, who have a specific physical ideal they wish their offspring to match. The result is that patients under 20 account for roughly 10% of all cosmetic procedures, according to the Association of German Plastic Surgeons.

That could soon change. Germany's conservative union parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), are presently working on draft legislation that would forbid cosmetic surgery for minors (persons under 18) unless there are medical grounds for it. "For good reasons, the state protects young people from themselves as far as alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking go, and we think it's high time it did the same with regard to unnecessary and often risky cosmetic operations," says CDU health expert Jens Spahn.

So far, however, the bill does not have the backing of the coalition's junior party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP). "We are only currently aware of a few individual union politicians seeking to ban cosmetic surgery for minors. We have yet to be presented with specific reasons or reliable facts with regard to this," Heinz Lanfermann, speaking for the FDP faction, told the Berliner Morgenpost. Lanfermann went on to say that the boundaries between medical necessity and a purely cosmetic operation are often "extremely unclear."

Spahn disagrees. "The difference between purely cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery, for example after a cancer operation, is extremely clear," he says, calling Lanfermann's concern a nonissue. "In the first instance, health insurance doesn't pay, and in the second, it does."

Finding a concrete way to anchor the proposal legally is another sticking point. In the past legislative period, an attempt to attach the bill to youth-protection legislation failed. Its CDU-CSU backers might try now to have it taken up at the state level rather than the federal.

Laws differ in other countries. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, nearly 219,000 cosmetic plastic-surgery procedures were performed on people ages 13 to 19 in 2010.

Read the full story in German by Florian Kain.

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