Pursuit of Beauty Trumps Safety in South Korea Written by Rachel On December 18, 2014 The unexpected passing of rock legend Shin Hae-chul (46) after his surgery is bringing medical malpractice in South Korea to the forefront. Five years ago, he had gastric bypass surgery at Seoul Sky Hospital and later had intestinal surgery at the same hospital. Shin suffered from immense pain in his chest and abdomen afterwards. Dr. Kang Se-hoon eventually confessed that he had stapled his stomach to make it smaller without consulting Shin or his family first. Instead of apologizing, the doctor simply said that the pain would go away. Shin developed an infection which led to cardiac arrest, a coma, and then death. An autopsy report released in December noted that two holes (one in the small intestine and one in the sac around the heart) were probably caused by the surgery. A CT scan of Shin’s chest showed that gas had formed in the sac around his heart, yet he hadn’t received any medical treatment for it.
Unfortunately, Shin is not alone when it comes to malpractice, and one particularly risky area is plastic surgery. It’s no secret that plastic surgery is a lucrative business in South Korea, and that has tempted many less-than-ethical doctors to try to cash in. In the Apujeong subway station alone, there are 110 plastic surgery advertisements. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with plastic surgery, and South Korea is not unique in its pursuit of perfection (plastic surgery in the United States was booming even in the recession). A combination of cultural and social norms and expectations simply makes going under the knife more acceptable in South Korea.
The media is probably the most influential. Plastic surgery pops up in the glowing before and after advertisements in the subway, music video, and TV shows. The reality show Let Me In takes ordinary people and gives them dramatic makeovers. The participants, both men and women, opt for plastic surgery because of the suffering caused by their physical appearances. 21-year-old Park Jin-bei worked hard to lose weight but was left with sagging skin. After working so hard to lose weight and having his dreams shattered, Park fell into depression and refused to leave his house for years. The show gave him $57,000 worth of plastic surgery as well as psychological help. His transformation into a “flower boy” caused a sensation. Although the makeover makes participants more confident, the show has been criticized for glossing over the real risks behind such serious procedures. In contrast to Let Me In, another reality show, Back to My Face, tries to undo plastic surgery and give participants back their natural looks (albeit with more plastic surgery).