A feminist approach to choice: cosmetic surgery and marriage law

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Clare Chambers’ research in feminist philosophy has had significant impact on UK national policy, law, medical practice and public understanding.

She contributed ethical analysis to a major Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on the ethics of Cosmetic Procedures, which has significantly influenced the Council’s lobbying on cosmetic procedure regulation and their engagement with UK government ministers, parliament and stakeholders.

The report included a number of recommendations to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to improve its regulation of advertising that could increase social pressure to conform to an unrealistic body shape. These recommendations, partly based on Chambers’ ethical analysis of the way that social norms influence choice of surgery, have had impact on the ASA which now advises advertisers that they ‘should ensure that they don’t portray particular body types in an irresponsible manner’.

Chambers has given talks to cosmetic surgeons, leading to many changing their practice to lengthen consultations and explore alternatives to surgery with their patients.

She has also had policy and practice impact in the area of state-recognised marriage and the regulation of personal relationships, as discussed in her book ‘Against Marriage’. One example is Chambers’ significant influence on a case made to the Supreme Court in 2018 that successfully legalised different-sex civil partnerships. The arguments made in Chambers’ book were particularly significant for the Campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships and helped to improve their strategy on the way to success with the Supreme Court. As a result, different-sex civil partnerships became legal on 31 December 2019.

“Clare Chambers’ work has definitely influenced our thinking and campaigning for Equal Civil Partnerships. […] It also encouraged us to widen the campaign strategy to focus on choice and family stability more generally, something that helped us build the cross-party consensus that was so crucial to the ultimate legislative success of our campaign.”

– Co-founder of the Campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships in the UK