As female genital mutilation (FGM) becomes an ever present issue, a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee has described the laws that govern female genital cosmetic surgery as ambiguous.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 but The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 does not contain any exemption for cosmetic surgery, and as things stand, there are no plans to amend the Act. The report from the Select Committee has called for the Act to be clarified so that it only covers procedures that have no ‘medical’ purpose.
There is a clear difference between what constitutes FGM and voluntary cosmetic surgery. Recent concerns have arisen from the so called ‘designer vagina’ practice offered by a number of cosmetic surgeons on Harley Street. The Select Committee report has called for the practice to be ‘outlawed’, drawing a comparison with this and FGM. It would be a very controversial move, affecting not only the private surgeons rightfully carrying out a fully legal and accepted practice, but also the patients who quite reasonably have a choice to undergo cosmetic surgery in the form of labiaplasty - which on the whole is considered a safe procedure if carried out properly.
In the clinical negligence context, it seems likely that the link between what may constitute FGM and a routine labiaplasty, is that of informed consent. Consent remains a complex area in cosmetic surgery and was not clarified following the Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions carried out by the Department of Health and reported in April 2013.
The question that will likely arise is whether a patient has given consent to the ‘full extent’ of the surgery to be performed. If, for instance, a patient is told that a procedure will be minimally invasive, with limited pre-operative advice about the risk that there may be complications which result in a more invasive approach, then this may arguably result in them undergoing excessive removal of the labia without consent. While consent continues to be an area largely without firm regulation in cosmetic surgery, it appears likely that at some stage, a civil claim for personal injuries arising from clinical negligence may also result in criminal proceedings and potentially conviction for FGM.