Donda West, a former English professor at Chicago State University, died in 2007 one day after cosmetic procedures to her abdomen and breasts in Los Angeles.
Dr. Jan Adams, the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who operated on Donda West has stated that West underwent several physicals and medical histories before the procedure. In his book entitled “What I know and the Press Isn’t Telling: The Truth behind the Death of Donda West”, Dr. Adams writes that “Ms. West’s cardiac status had already been evaluated and cleared a few months earlier at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.”
But West’s niece Yolanda Anderson, who pushed for the law, said her aunt had not undergone a physical exam before her cosmetic surgery and had an extensive family history of heart problems. She feels that if the proper examinations were preformed prior to Donda’s surgery, then medical clearance would not have been granted—thereby preventing her aunt’s death by not allowing Donda to proceed with surgery.
The new Donda West Law also states that violating this law is not a crime, so charges would not result. California Assembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter, representing the 62nd District and the lawmaker who introduced the Donda West bill, said the Medical Board of California will continue to hold the authority to punish violators of the Donda West Law. In other words, it is not a criminal offense to violate this law.
According to both Dr. Michael McGuire, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and Dr. James Wells, a past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, requiring a history and physical exam before surgery to check a patient’s vital signs and other markers of health is such a fundamental part of medical care that it is like telling a surgeon to “make sure you suture up all the wounds.”
It is important to remember that all medical procedures, cosmetic or not, have risks associated with them. A plastic surgeon has an obligation to turn down a potential patient for cosmetic surgery when a patient’s health deems them unfit for the procedure. While saying no when it is appropriate is the responsibility of the evaluating surgeon, a thorough history and physical examination may not always prevent complications and an underlying medical condition could be difficult to detect in some instances.
Aside from being upfront regarding their own personal medical history, an additional step that patients seeking cosmetic procedures can take to ensure their utmost safety are to check with their home state’s medical board to check a potential plastic surgeon’s background. Check with the American Board of Plastic Surgery to ensure they are a board certified plastic surgeon. In addition, patients should make sure the facility where the procedure will be performed has been properly accredited by a group such as the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, AAAASF, or the Joint commission which inspects facilities to make sure they are set up to perform surgical procedures safely.
For the vast majority of plastic surgeons who are already performing a thorough history and physical exam along with any indicated pre-operative testing prior to a patient’s cosmetic procedure, the Donda West Law will not affect their practice at all.
All summed up, the Donda West law is more a gesture to honor the memory of Donda West rather than effective patient safety legislation and regulation.