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Beauty and the doctor: moral issues in health care with regard to appearance

Objective

OBJECTIVES:

-To characterize and assess people's wishes to medically change one's appearance from an ethical and philosophical point of view.

-To offer an ethical framework for judging these developments and guiding policy decisions in health care.

A category of medical treatments which has received relatively little attention in ethics as well as in current national health policies and at a European level is related to appearance. Although treatments can differ in many respects (to the extent in which they are invasive; effective expensive) and are offered within a whole range of medical contexts (from aesthetic surgery to growth hormone therapy; from medical prevention programs for obesity to the treatment of complications of body piercing), they all aim at changing a person's looks. The rapidly growing number of treatments related to appearance is due to the availability of new medical options (e.g. synthetic growth hormone) on the one hand and to a significant change in attitude towards one's appearance on the other hand. Many people choose to use medical options to change their looks for different, often to a high degree for aesthetic reasons.

The project's objective is, in short:
1) to characterize and assess people's wishes to medically change one's appearance from an ethical and philosophical point of view, (1.1) by describing through interdisciplinary research current views regarding the body, e.g. one's appearance, which underlie present medical and social developments, and (1.2) by evaluating in a normative sense place and meaning of appearance in our societies, and;
2) to offer an ethical framework for judging these developments and guiding policy decisions in health care at the level of (2.1) governments as well as (2.2) the medical profession and professional organizations. This Concerted Action will bring together a small group of scholars (8 participants; 6 countries) from different disciplines (more than 8) in a three-year lasting project, in which five workshop meetings and an equal number of rounds of consultation and discussion are foreseen. In addition to the "core" participants external experts with specific knowledge of a workshop theme will be invited to make their contributions. The project has been preceded by and is based on a pilot study and 'reconnaissance' research by the same coordinators. A workshop in Copenhagen (22-25 June 1995), funded within the BIOMED 1 programme, has led to the recent publication of the book "In the Eye of the Beholder; On Ethics and Medical Change of Appearance, by Inez de Beaufort, Medard Hilhorst, S0ren Holm (eds.), Skandinavian University Press, Oslo, 1996. Keywords: Biomedical ethics; Appearance; Body image; Medical need; Informed consent; Autonomy; Justice; Professional duties; Health care policy.

Funding Scheme

CON - Coordination of research actions

Coordinator

Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
Address
50,Dr. Molewaterplein
3015 GE Rotterdam
Netherlands