PHOENIX — The American and Arizona Societies of Plastic Surgery are urging Arizona lawmakers to make a change after a 12News investigation uncovered that some naturopaths are performing cosmetic surgeries like liposuction and Brazilian butt lifts.
Naturopaths, or people who practice "alternative medicine" and avoid drugs while emphasizing the use of herbs and tissue manipulation, have reportedly botched the surgeries of multiple patients, with some being hospitalized.
“It's a patient safety issue that we're all very, very concerned about," said Dr. Raman Mahabir, a plastic surgeon and former president of the Arizona Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Mahabir is a plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon and is the former president of the Arizona Society of Plastic Surgeons.
He explains why the organizations decided to involve the Arizona legislature after 12News released its investigation.
“We wanted to write that letter really in support to your story and the work that you've done because as the past president of the Arizona Society of Plastic Surgeons, we know the patient safety issue that's at hand here," Mahabir said.
Bruce Tucker is one of the patients who has been outspoken about what happened to him.
In a lawsuit and an interview with 12News, Tucker said a naturopath botched him after performing liposuction surgery.
His lawsuit is still ongoing.
“I don't think I've taken my shirt off in public in two years. I don't look at myself in the mirror," Tucker said.
12News also learned of another naturopath who settled with a patient she performed liposuction on. According to court records, that patient was hospitalized following the surgery due to complications.
Some in the naturopathic community argue they are allowed to perform minor surgeries and consider cosmetic surgeries like liposuction and BBL to be minor. Experts in the medical community disagree.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, though, says Arizona law clearly states naturopathic medicine involves "non-surgical methods," so there should not be any gray area, to begin with.
“We want to bring this to legislators' attention because we brought it to the attention of the naturopathic board and said, 'Hey, there's a problem. Can you help us deal with this?' And we didn't really feel like that got the attention that it deserved. And certainly, the patient safety issue has not been addressed," Mahabir said.
Their letter, specifically addressed to Senate President Karen Fann and Speaker Rusty Bowers, states, “The gross disregard for patient safety is utterly appalling."
The letter continues to say, “It is truly distressing that a naturopath would perform any surgical procedure, let alone something as invasive and risky as a Brazilian butt lift.”
The letter concludes by asking lawmakers to pursue legislation to close the loopholes in Arizona law that have allowed these practices to continue.
“I'm confident in our legislators; I've spent enough time at our state capitol. Our legislators do an exceptional job of, of getting up to date and up to date quickly on issues.//I've seen them enact legislation that does exactly what we need them to do here to protect patients.”
The Arizona Naturopathic Medical Association responded to the plastic surgery community's letter with a letter of their own. In their letter, they argue, “Naturopathic physicians are exactly that – physicians.”
The naturopathic association claims the profession is properly regulated by the Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board and says the society of plastic surgeons has "generalized one situation that is being investigated and handled appropriately by the board."
The Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board has had the opportunity to take action against at least two naturopaths who have performed liposuction surgeries but declined to discipline them, effectively saying the practice is allowed.
After the naturopath association's letter claiming the board was still investigating Tucker's case, 12News emailed the board repeatedly asking for clarification. However, the board nor its executive director has not responded.
“Every specialty will have bad behaviors, a few bad apples if you will, but usually the medical boards, the regulatory authorities, take those on and take care of it at that level," Mahabir said.
Following the I-Team's report, the Naturopathic Medical Association has created a minor surgery committee to help sort out what falls within the scope of practice for naturopaths in Arizona.
Senate President Fann has released the following statement to 12News in response to the plastic surgery association's letter:
“This issue is currently playing out in the courts, and we will not comment on pending litigation. We will, however, keep an eye on what is decided and determine what action needs to be taken after any rulings. There is a possibility that this issue will be addressed in the next legislative session, with potential clarifications on the laws to improve overall naturopath operations and patient experiences, but it is premature to address that now. These are conversations we will have with our members and our legislative council in the coming months.”
Learn more about other 12News investigations by subscribing to the 12News YouTube channel and watching our I-Team playlist.