Should Breast Reconstruction Be Free? One Clinic Is Trying It Out.Katie Taylor
A breast reconstruction surgery may seem like a natural choice for a woman who has undergone a mastectomy. It may simply be a matter of practicality as reconstruction will give a woman back her former shape and her clothes will fit the same. It may be that reconstruction helps a woman to feel whole again.
Or it could be that after cancer, breast reconstruction is not possible or not desirable, and a woman continues her journey without one or both of her breasts.
The choice might be easier if reconstruction were offered free of charge and cost was no longer a barrier to reconstruction. A clinic in India has decided to offer reconstruction free of charge so that ability to pay will not be a barrier to any seeking the surgery. But there’s an interesting twist: free breast reconstruction, or augmentation or reduction, will be available to anyone—not just breast cancer survivors.
This has ignited the sort of controversy you might imagine, but the Indian state in question, Tamil Nadu, is known for being generous to the disadvantaged, and the clinic offering the surgeries feels it has legitimate, health-based reasons for offering breast reconstruction, augmentation, and reduction free of charge, regardless of medical need.
The state health department had already been offering free breast reconstruction surgeries to cancer survivors at its clinic in Chennai, but now breast surgeries will be available to those who wish to change their breasts for either health or cosmetic reasons. The department says that offering these procedures for free will keep women from deciding to undergo procedures at unsafe clinics or going into oppressive debt to obtain them.
Proponents of the decision note that breast reduction might be sought to relieve legitimate shoulder or back pain caused by large breasts. Or a surgery might be sought to remedy disproportionate breast size, and clinic representatives cited the boost in confidence a breast surgery can supply. If a woman is embarrassed to go out because of her breast size, a reduction or augmentation could make a big difference in her life.
The clinic will also be offering other surgeries free of charge: cleft palate correction, hand transplants, advanced wound care, and others. But those are not sparking the same controversy as the breast procedures.
Opponents of the decision argue that these surgeries will take state funds away from more needed projects, like fighting communicable diseases, and that breast procedures that aren’t medically necessary are an inappropriate use of taxpayer money. A state former public health director felt it was sad that beauty treatments were being prioritized in place of “life-saving surgeries.”
Cosmetic surgery is becoming more popular in India as more people have the means to pay for it. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, India had the seventh-highest number of breast procedures in the world in 2016, and rated fifth when it came to total cosmetic surgical procedures. The United States was first in both categories.