Editorial Notes

A 29-year old cosmetic seller's perilous quest for beauty: Philippine Daily Inquirer

In its editorial on April 2, the paper says that businesswoman Shiryl Saturnino's death following three cosmetic procedures raises questions about the safety of beauty-enhancement services.

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - How tragic to die in the quest for beauty. But those offering cosmetic surgery and other beauty-enhancement services-and they are legion in our neck of the woods-have every responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing, if not indeed the improved looks, of their clients.

It behooves us then to consider the death of Shiryl Saturnino, who was in the business of selling beauty products, as cautionary tale rather than ironic occurrence.

This was how it transpired, according to reports: The 29-year-old came to The Icon Clinic, a cosmetic services facility in Mandaluyong City, on March 25. It was not her first time, having come to the clinic for surgery on her nose and bust in 2013 and 2015, respectively. But incredibly, on that day she went through three procedures one after the other - revision of her breasts and buttocks, and liposuction.

The attending doctors were surgeon Samuel Eric Yapjuangco and anaesthesiologist Jose Jovito Mendiola, assisted by three nurses. The hours-long procedures done, she was about to be moved to the recovery room when her heart stopped beating at 2.40 am.

The doctors attempted to revive her and at one point called for assistance from Makati Medical centre, which sent a doctor to the clinic. She died at 3.21 am.

The chattering class immediately noted the powerful irony of a woman engaged in the sale of beauty products dying after undergoing cosmetic surgery. Nevertheless, there are pressing questions that need to be asked, such as: What is the wisdom of performing three surgical cosmetic procedures on a patient at the same time? What are the expertise and competence levels of Saturnino's doctors? Shouldn't psychological counselling be an obligatory procedure prior to admission for major cosmetic surgery? Should anyone considering cosmetic surgery now think twice?

The autopsy results reportedly indicate the cause of death as "multiple organ failure secondary to complications of cosmetic surgical procedures."

The Eastern Police District has deployed a special team that includes doctors from the Philippine National Police Crime laboratory, medical experts, and ranking investigators to determine what went wrong and to pinpoint culpability. On March 31, the Mandaluyong city government shut down The Icon Clinic on grounds of questionable documents.

Mayor Menchie Abalos, in coordination with the Department of Health, issued a cease-and-desist order on the clinic after discrepancies were found in its registration papers.

The Icon Clinic has earlier issued a statement through its lawyer saying in part: "It is our responsibility to inform the public about the truth, and we are fully cooperating with the investigation." It should be held firmly to its word.

The death of Saturnino comes at a time when cosmetic surgery has never been more popular, not just in the Philippines where it has become an ubiquitous practice, but around the world. A recent Agence France-Presse report stated that cosmetic surgery is experiencing a boom in Asia because it has become more affordable and carries less of a stigma.

In Asia, the growing trend has been to try and become more Caucasian in appearance. South Korea registered the third-biggest market for such operations in 2015, with 1.2 million out of the world total of 21.7 million procedures. In 2020, Asia is expected to overtake Europe as the world leader in cosmetic surgery.

There are urgent uses for cosmetic surgery, such as to ease the sufferings of children and adults with cleft palate, cleft lip and other facial deformities. The nonprofit Operation Smile has long been performing these life-changing procedures in the Philippines and other parts of the world.

We reserve judgement on those who seek to change their appearance in the name of some vague ideal of beauty. But we insist that those who make it a profitable business to offer these seekers the means to come closest to that ideal should be held to the highest medical and ethical standards at all times.

Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.