Danger behind the beautiful face

Updated: 2012-10-19 06:52

By Violetta Yau(HK Edition)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Common sense tells us that "Beauty is only skin deep". But the sad thing for most women is that few can have the wisdom to see through the illusory nature of extrinsic beauty. After all, it is only self-deceiving to expect people not to judge a woman by her appearance. Looks are all that matters, they counter. Not only can beautiful looks bring love, but also they can fetch a fortune.

It is therefore not surprising to see countless women of all ages, madly going after youth and beauty by going under the knife at the risk of their lives, and at great cost. This also explains why many women easily fell prey to the glamorous posters and advertisements plastered across the city by beauty parlors, proclaiming their high-risk beauty treatments can bring magic to people's looks.

The so-called magic therapies are enough to make your head spin, ranging from Botox injections, liposuction, facelifts, double-eyelid surgery, laser, breast enhancement to stem cell therapy, you name it. Despite the obviously-high health risks posed by these procedures, and many plastic surgery failures, all along the government has turned a blind eye to the unscrupulous practices of beauty parlors or private clinics.

And still over the years women are all willing to surrender their cash to pursue their beauty-enhancement dreams and fight aging. But when these beauty practices have gone to the point of endangering people's lives, it is time for the government to discard its laissez-faire approach, and impose a stringent regulatory regime on these beauty treatments and therapies.

What has struck as a wake-up call for the government is the latest mishap involving four women suffering septic shock after receiving intravascular infusion treatment at a DR treatment center, arranged by the DR group. One woman died and the other three are still in serious condition. The doctor referred by the group extracted blood from them and sent it to a stem cell research center to undergo processing. The blood was then returned to the doctor for transfusion back to the four patients.

This experimental procedure, known as DC-CIK, is said to improve the conditions of cancer patients by strengthening the body's immune system. Of course the DR group has claimed that this procedure can restore youth and beauty to their clients, but in fact it has never been clinically proven that it can be used for regeneration, or anti-aging purposes. This procedure has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and remains a subject of research in foreign countries. However, because of the exaggerated claims of the advertisements, more than 40 people have been lured and misled into undergoing the treatment for cosmetic purposes.

We all know that any procedures involving blood processing and transfusions are high-risk medical procedures that should require statutory monitoring and regulation. The problem is that the government did not see that there is such a need. Worse still, it allows a big loophole to exist in law to enable such medical practitioners to keep misleading the public under the disguise of risk-free beauty treatments, which are rampant like weeds in the city.

There are certainly a plethora of issues raised by this fatal incident with contaminated blood as the main cause. Was the laboratory undertaking the blood processing qualified and capable of conducting such a procedure? For a doctor to perform a stem cell transfusion procedure, he should be a qualified and clinically-trained hematologist. How experienced was the doctor responsible for the procedures done for the victims? We do not know. It is also unknown whether the actual risks were fully explained by the doctors to their clients.

What is unnerving is the lack of legislation to regulate high-risk medical procedures under the name of harmless beauty treatments or therapies, nor is there a statutory requirement to define what constitutes a medical procedure, as well as to govern the existence of experimental treatments with unproven technology. The government should clarify the meaning of "medical procedures" and identify which beauty treatments amount to medical procedures that need to be administered by qualified medical practitioners in hospitals or licensed clinics. Medical procedures performed at private beauty salons should be outlawed.

For the unproven experimental treatments, special permissions should be sought before they can be administered by specialists in a regulated institution. For those misleading beauty statements or unfounded claims about the treatments, the government should introduce legislation to crack down on unscrupulous beauty salons. It is deplorable that the Undesirable Medical Advertisements Ordinance does not apply to the so-called beauty and health industry.

In fact, this is not the first time the safety of these treatments and procedures has been questioned, with some serious failures and fatal incidents in the past. The medical profession has urged the government for more than a decade to regulate the beauty industry, but its calls fell on deaf ears simply because the previous government did not want to hamper the thriving development of the beauty industry.

However, a non-interventionist approach will only encourage more malpractices to grow, endangering people's lives and tarnishing the reputation of the medical and beauty industries. It is time for the government to take quick action.

The author is a current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 10/19/2012 page3)