Every once in a while I read a news story that’s so slimy and in which civilized humans act so poorly that it makes me want to take a shower or disinfect.
The latest skin-crawler comes from Dr. Phil Haeck (probably pronounced “hack”!), president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), who has advised plastic surgeons not to label as “cancer” a rare type of cancer linked to breast implants. Instead, the good doctor wants his fellow plastic surgeons to call it “a condition,” and by all means avoid such terms as malignancy, tumor or cancer.
Now I’m inclined from the get-go to dislike anything plastic surgeons say. Plastic surgery has its uses, for example, after severe burns, an accident or a mastectomy. But most plastic surgery, and all plastic surgery that’s advertised in upscale local magazines all over the country, targets vain and insecure people who don’t like their own looks. That makes plastic surgeon a particularly expensive, painful and pernicious part of the great American dream machine that establishes an ideal of beauty and then tries to make people feel insecure enough about not achieving the ideal to buy the products and services of the cosmetic, love advice and related industries. Of course it’s not just looks and sexuality that are commoditized in contemporary America, but all emotions and emotional expression.
It’s bad enough to brazenly manipulate the emotions of insecure people to get them to have their noses reshaped, their breasts enlarged or the wrinkles stretched out of their faces. But to hide a potential cancer that could arise from perhaps the most popular of such procedures—breast implants—is unethical and immoral.
The unctuous seriousness with which the organization explained away Dr. Haeck’s comments by saying they were taken out of context only made it worse. The context that the organization supplied was a discussion of a more dangerous type of cancer than the one that the breast implants actually cause. Of course, both the more dangerous type and the less dangerous type linked to the implants are both typically called “cancer.”
If the good doctor had advised breast-builders to play down the risk, which the Food and Drug Administration recently called quite small, I would not be up in arms. But Dr. Haeck didn’t play down the risk; he changed the name of the risk from “cancer,” something that makes everyone break out in cold sweats, to “condition,” something ambiguous and only potentially dangerous.
That’s called a lie, and the ASPS should have met it by terminating Dr. Haeck’s employment.