Comment of the Day: “Three Breasted Ethics”

Alexander Cheezem contributed an informative and well-argued comment challenging my ethical conclusions in the case of “Jasmine Tridevil,” who supposedly had a surgically constructed third breast attached between her two natural ones in an effort to become a reality TV star. Her story turned out to be a scam, but the ethical analysis is still worthy of consideration. Ethics Alarms doesn’t have many medical ethics dilemmas to ponder, and it is a fascinating area. As I considered  Jasmine’s titillation, I suspected it might be a hoax, but from the standpoint of honing ethics alarms, it doesn’t matter. I’m kind of relieved, frankly. Continue reading

Three Breasted Ethics

Three_breasted_woman

UPDATE: Snopes, the urban legend and hoax website, now thinks that this is a scam. As I noted in the post, that would not be a surprise and in fact would be a relief. In such cases, I suggest that the post be read as a hypothetical, since the ethics issues raised by the three-breasted woman remain interesting, even if the story itself turns out to be fiction.

A 21-year-old woman being identified with the alias Jasmine Tridevil ( don’t over-think it) says she paid $20,000 to a plastic surgeon to  give her a realistic third breast. She wants to  become a TV reality show star. Jasmine has hired a camera crew to follow her around Tampa, Florida, documenting the challenges she faces as a three-breasted woman.

I know what you are thinking.

I HOPE this is a hoax.

“Jasmine” was rejected by more than 50 doctors who believed they would be violating professional ethical codes. Scot Glasberg, president-elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, condemned the surgery as ‘worse than unethical’ and ‘harmful to society’. ‘This violates every ethical principle not just in surgery but in medicine as well. We look to enhance the norm. This is not the norm. Nothing speaks louder than the fact that the surgeon required the patient to sign a non-disclosure form.” Continue reading

Are “Freak Shows” Unethical? Because They Are Back.

Abigail and Brittany Hensel: Who’s exploiting who?

Circus and carnival sideshows were banned by law and ordinance over half a century ago. Silly me: I remember hearing about that as a child and assuming that it represented human progress, that civilized Americans had decided that it was degrading to both the “human oddities” displaying themselves to gawking onlookers and the gawking onlookers themselves, and that we were better than that. The ethical attitude toward people with deformities, strange maladies and unusual physical characteristics was compassion, acceptance, kindness, and treatment as equals, not voyeuristic ogling. It made sense at the time.

Of course, as a child I had yet to experience the full oppression of political correctness. The sideshows were banned because the people who had no interest in them felt that they could dictate conduct to the people who did, and that it was also somehow virtuous to forbid the human exhibits from making a living—for their own good, of course. It is certainly time to repeal those bans, which were of dubious constitutionality anyway, since the freak shows that were deemed unhealthy and degrading on the carnival circuit are now openly thriving on television, making more money and being seen by more Americans than P.T. Barnum could have imagined in his wildest dreams. The original question remains, however: Are they ethical? Continue reading

Self-Destruction Ethics Alarms: A Woman’s Unethical Quest For Fat

Yesterday, the world heard about Donna Simpson, a New Jersey woman who weighs in at about 500 pounds. She sasy she wants to be the fattest woman alive, and is managing her diet and exercise to achieve that lofty goal. Of course, all those Twinkies and pork rinds cost a lot of money—her weekly grocery bill averages more than $800—so she earns extra cash by putting herself on Gluttoncam, or whatever she calls it, where freakophiles can watch her gorge herself online for a reasonable fee. Her partner, the news reports say, is completely supportive. “I think he’d like it if I was bigger,” giggles Donna. “He’s a real belly man and completely supports me.”

Okaaaaay….

Obviously this situation is unusual…at least, I hope it is. Still, it raises many difficult ethics questions, some with broad implications:

  • We are told that it is cruel, greedy and heartless for insurance companies to withhold coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” and should be compelled to insure everyone without regard to special risks. Does this apply to Donna Simpson? Continue reading