French doctors on trial for series of blunders in cosmetic surgery

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Danger: Beauty can be bad for your health. Two French doctors have been on trial in Bordeaux this week, accused of negligence in cosmetic operations which went wrong.

Danger: Beauty can be bad for your health. Two French doctors have been on trial in Bordeaux this week, accused of negligence in cosmetic operations which went wrong.

In one case, a specialist cosmetic surgeon is accused in a civil action of pressing ahead with a liposuction and stomach-reduction operation despite unacceptably high risks. His patient, a 55-year-old woman, died two days later.

In the second case, a 53-year-old woman is suing a non-specialist doctor after she developed a serious infection from a fat-reduction operation on her legs.

The two cases have drawn attention to a boom in cosmetic surgery in France. The country invented liposuction and has led the way in other forms of body-altering surgery. In some cases, including the fatal case in Bordeaux, cosmetic surgery is paid for by the French health service.

Christine Maze, the lawyer conducting both cases in Bordeaux, said: "These are unacceptable tragedies in comfort operations which had no medical necessity."

In the first case - dating back to 1997 - a criminal action has already been brought against the doctor, Denis Delonca, and thrown out. His patient, Bernadette Méline, who had five children, was cremated without an autopsy. The criminal investigators could not establish a definite link between her death and the operation two days before.

Her family has brought a civil action, arguing that the doctor - and an anaesthetist and heart specialist consulted in the case - took unnecessarily high risks in allowing an obese woman with high blood pressure to have an operation for no pressing medical reason.

Dr Delonca's lawyers say the operation was approved, and paid for, by the Sécurité Sociale, so that proves it was medically justified. Mme Méline was 5ft 5in tall and weighed 203lbs at the time of the operation, a liposuction and a lipectomy to reduce the fat on her waist and hips. She had gone to the doctor a year earlier, complaining that her body was "disgusting". He insisted she must lose at least 25lbs before he could operate.

Her family says that Dr Delonca did not sufficiently warn her of the risks involved. These were first brought to her attention by the anaesthetist, eight days before she went into surgery.

In the second case, dating from 2001, Clotilde Besse contracted a serious infection which put her in hospital for six weeks. She had been given a liposuction operation on her legs by a non-specialist doctor, a Dr Claverie.

The infection was blamed on her not having a shower before the operation. The doctor says he was not made aware of that. Her lawyers - and the clinic - say he specifically requested that she should skip the shower to preserve the marks he had made on her legs to guide his work during the operation.

The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Bordeaux reserved its judgment on both cases until October.

The decision to hear both cases in the same court on the same day has caused questions to be asked about the boom in cosmetic surgery in France. The newspaper, Libération, headed its report "cosmetic surgery on trial".

Although no official figures are available, the cosmetic surgery industry estimates there were up to 200,000 operations last year, probably double the number of a decade ago. Breast enlargement operations are said to be running at 18,000 a year, twice as many as five years ago.

One in five of all cosmetic operations in France, 40,000 a year, are liposuctions, a procedure for sucking fat from beneath the skin pioneered in France in 1980.

The latest boom is cosmetic surgery for men, especially face-lifts and operations on the eyebrows to turn back the years.

Cosmetic surgery cannot normally be charged to the health service, except if the doctor signs a certificate saying it is medically necessary. In the case of Mme Méline, the health service accepted that the reduction of her weight might improve her overall health and cut its future bills.

An investigation by the newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé, two years ago discovered that the health service was spending €1bn (£664m) a year on cosmetic surgery. These were said to include nose operations which were passed off as "straightening" of the nasal passages.