Beauty loopholes must be plugged

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Oct 2021

The death of a Latin dance instructor following a beauty procedure was another tragic wake-up call.

Although the lengthy sentence meted out by the High Court to the doctor who performed the deadly procedure may have given delayed justice to victim Josephine Lee Kar-ying and her family, it failed to answer all the questions.

The public rightly has high expectations for the medical profession, expecting practitioners to place the health of their patients before all else and under all circumstances.

But in this case, it was clear that doctor Vanessa Kwan Hau-chi grossly breached this basic trust, leaving the operating theater immediately to leave the victim in the care of staff who were not trained to look after a heavily sedated person.

Six years in prison may be a long time, but it is not disproportionate given the death of the victim.

Sadly, this was not the first fatal blunder involving beauty procedures. Following a number of incidents, the government was forced to amend the law a few years ago to strengthen supervision of the industry. But loopholes remain.

For example, although the so-called enhanced legislation specifies that certain procedures must be performed by doctors, it fails to address the fundamental question: what is aesthetic medicine? This has not been clearly defined.

Also, the procedures and equipment used in the industry can be operated by general practitioners even though the technology is constantly advancing.

Should those trusted to perform the procedures be required to meet certain specialist standards and subject to regular review to make sure they have the knowledge and skills of the latest technology?

Following a previous blunder at DR Beauty clinic that also led to the death of a client, this is the second death heard by the court. A third fatal case involving the death of a female banker is pending.

Notwithstanding the 2018 legal amendment, more needs to be done to clarify the chain of accountability of an operator.

The lack of clearly defined accountability can make it difficult to make a complaint, but accountability and standards must be spelled out unambiguously.

The current case occurred in June, 2014. Lee - a Latin dance instructor dubbed "Lady Gaga of the dancing scene" - underwent a liposuction procedure at the Regrown Hair Transplant Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The court heard that Lee was heavily sedated and died after the process.

Kwan, the doctor performing the surgery, was charged with manslaughter and a jury in the High Court found her guilty.

It is alarming to know that Kwan had severely deviated from normal professional standards, including the failure to conduct a comprehensive assessment before surgery and record surgical information.

She left immediately after the operation, leaving Lee to be looked after by untrained assistants.

Worse still, equipment monitoring Lee's recovery was removed when she was still unconscious.

As Federation of Beauty Industry founding chairman Nelson Ip Sai-hung said, the existing regulatory regime is too little for the purpose.

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