Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
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Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Consent not a defence, court tells body modification artist

BioEdge, 16 Feb 2019
Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

Michael Cook*

Dr. Evil, a British body modification artist, has been found guilty of three counts of grievous bodily harm for tongue-splitting and nipple removal despite the fact that his clients consented to the procedures.

The argument put forward in court by Dr Evil, aka Brendan McCarthy, was strongly supported in the community. A petition with 13,400 signatures argued "for the right to express ourselves in whatever modified manner we wish in a safe environment". Judge Amjad Nawaz ruled that the kind of radical procedures in which Dr Evil specialised were not analogous to tattoos and piercings. "What the defendant undertook for reward in this case was a series of medical procedures for no medical reason," he said.

The bioethical angle here is the notion of consent. Writing in The Conversation legal academic Samantha Pegg pointed out that:

There are limits on the harm individuals can consent to. Most people are aware that the law does not sanction euthanasia, yet may be unaware that giving consent to the infliction of lesser harms may also not absolve those causing the injury from criminal charges.

This is a longstanding legal principle. Where actual bodily harm or above is inflicted upon a person with no good reason, in public or private, the consent of the victim is irrelevant. Whether there is a “good reason” is a matter for the courts to decide.

In the case of Dr Evil, a Court of Appeal was asked whether there was a defence of consent. It said No. there was no “good reason” to allow consent to absolve the appellant of liability. They stressed that the procedures posed a serious risk to health and were surgical in nature – yet they were performed for no good medical reason by an individual who was not medically trained.

After this ruling, Dr Evil had no choice but to plead guilty. He will be sentenced in March.

But as Ms Pegg observes, the decision of the Court of Appeal still leaves open what kind of procedures are reasonable and which are not. It could even be argued that some kinds of cosmetic surgery are unreasonable. And in fact, Cambridge University academic Dennis J. Baker contended in the New Criminal Law Review a couple of years ago that “The surgeon violates the dignity of both adult and minor patients when she carries out risky nontherapeutic harmful cosmetic surgery merely because a vulnerable patient has requested it ... The medical profession has hidden the criminal harm in unnecessary cosmetic surgery by dressing it up as genuine medicine.”


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