A 22-year-old university student died Saturday nine days after she underwent a bimaxillary or corrective jaw surgery in a cosmetic surgery clinic in Busan. In June this year, a woman in her 30s died a month after undergoing the same procedure in the hope of looking prettier.
Corrective jaw surgery is an extremely difficult procedure under full anesthesia that involves the use of surgical drills to carve away at bones, carefully avoiding muscles and nerves in the face.
The procedure was originally developed to treat patients with congenital defects that make it difficult for them to chew properly. But it has found more lucrative uses for people who want a slimmer jawline to conform to current ideals of beauty.
In the West, the usual approach is to try orthodontic methods such as braces first for about a year and then resort to corrective jaw surgery if all other options prove unsatisfactory. But plastic surgeons in Korea often perform corrective jaw surgery first and then use braces to reset a patient's teeth. This has led to a surge in complaints about gruesome side effects, such as pain or loss of sensation in the face.
According to a National Assembly audit, only 17 percent of plastic surgery clinics in Korea are equipped with defibrillators or respirators in case a patient suffers from a heart attack during surgery. And many clinics have visiting anesthesiologists who pack up and move on to another clinic once the operation is over while the patient is still sedated. This leaves many patients vulnerable if problems arise.
In 2011, 650,000 cosmetic surgeries were performed in Korea. There is probably no other country where plastic surgeons place ads on the sides of buses and on subways tempting people to have a nip and tuck, usually featuring before-and-after photos of patients who went under the knife.
Health authorities need to impose much tougher regulations on dangerous cosmetic procedures such as corrective jaw surgery by allowing only hospitals that have permanent anesthesiologists and emergency resuscitation equipment to perform them. And the courts must require plastic surgeons to prove their innocence if problems arise. When malpractice is proven, doctors must be slapped with fines so heavy that they have no choice but to close their business.