The practice of hiring one doctor to perform a surgery, but a second doctor actually performing that surgery once the patient is under anesthesia, is known as ghost surgery.
  • In South Korea, the dangerous and illegal "ghost surgeon" industry is booming, per a new CNN report.
  • The term refers to the practice of one doctor being hired to perform surgery on a patient, and another doctor actually performing said procedure.
  • South Korea is known as the plastic surgery capital of the world.
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In September 2016, a 24-year-old student in South Korea died after undergoing a jawline-altering surgery at the hands of a "ghost surgeon."

Yoonjung Seo and Julia Hollingsworth detailed the incident in a new report for CNN on the epidemic of ghost surgery in South Korea.

The student, Kwon Dae-hee, had gone in for a surgery that would make his jawline appear more slender. The surgery usually takes at most two hours and has become commonplace in South Asia, popularized by K-Pop.

CCTV footage from Kwon's surgery, however, showed that one plastic surgeon started the surgery, and another - a general doctor who did not have a plastic surgery license - took over the surgery after about an hour, per CNN. The surgery took more than three hours, and Kwon bled heavily when it was over. He died in the hospital seven weeks later.

The practice of hiring one doctor to perform a surgery, but a second doctor actually performing that surgery once the patient is under anesthesia, is known as ghost surgery. It's illegal, but, as CNN found, the laws around it are weak - and the practice offers clinics a way to make money.

"I guess the reason why this practice is around is because young and inexperienced doctors can get jobs and gain experience, and clinics can operate at a lower cost by hiring them to perform," an unnamed plastic surgeon told CNN.

Kwon's family launched a civil case against the clinic where Kwon's surgery was conducted and won $381,000 in damages against it in May 2019. The doctors and nurses involved in the case are now facing a series of charges, including three doctors who are facing charges of criminal manslaughter, per CNN.

Plastic surgery is booming in South Korea

With nearly 1 million procedures a year as of 2018, South Korea is often referred to as the world's plastic surgery capital. The three most popular plastic surgery procedures in the country are skin whitening, nose jobs, and double-eyelid surgery.

As Insider's Rachel Premack previously reported, many young people feel pressured to look perfect in the photo IDs they submit as part of standard job applications and turn to plastic surgery. It's especially prevalent among aspiring flight attendants, with some plastic surgery clinics making specific flight attendant packages that encourage women to slim their faces and widen their eyes.

But even as plastic surgery continues to boom, ghost surgery incidents across the country have prompted calls for change from ordinary civilians and lawmakers alike. Kwon's mother, Lee Na Geum, has become one such advocate for change, per CNN.

In May 2019, The Korea Times reported that under a newly proposed bill, the use of ghost doctors would be subject to fines or prison terms of up to three years. Prior to the 2019 bill, the surgeons faced no punishment for the practice, while the ghost surgeon could face fines or up to five years in prison. In July 2020, lawmakers in South Korea submitted a bill that would require hospitals to have video cameras in operating rooms to prevent ghost surgeries and sexual attacks on patients under anesthesia.

Read the full report on CNN.

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