WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
It’s the latest extreme body-modification trend that makes most of us squirm or look away.
Not for the faint-hearted, the ‘tongue-splitting’ craze involves slicing the tongue in half for a lizard or forked look.
British medical associations recently issued a warning over the potentially life-threatening procedure, which can lead to significant blood loss, infection, nerve damage and difficulties with breathing and swallowing.
“No reputable surgeon would undertake this procedure, as it carries high risks, both at the time of the procedure and long-term, there are no medical reasons for doing it …” president of the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) David Ward said.
Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons president Professor Mark Ashton told The New Daily that extreme procedures, such as tongue-splitting, “carry significant risks for no medical benefit”.
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Risky procedures gaining popularity
Like tongue-splitting, extreme procedures such as skin implants, branding and scarification are rising in popularity.
On social media, there’s a seemingly never-ending stream of photos by young enthusiasts showing off these extreme procedures – with the popular hashtag #bodymods amassing almost 1.5 million global posts on Instagram to date.
These painful procedures are often performed by body modifiers or tattoo artists who generally have no medical training.
On Monday, a body modifier from Terrigal on NSW’s Central Coast was charged over the death of a woman after he allegedly inserted a plastic snowflake under the woman’s skin.
A post-mortem found the cause of death was septicaemia from an infection in the 30-year-old woman’s hand, according to reports.
In May this year, a NSW Central Coast man was charged for allegedly mutilating a woman’s genitalia in 2016.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard vowed to tighten its state laws, describing the extreme procedures as unregulated and barbaric.
“This so-called body modification is just plain wacko and can lead to permanent maiming,” Mr Hazzard told The Daily Telegraph in May.
Body modifiers in legal loophole
Despite the inherent risks, extreme modifications such as tongue- splitting remain legal in Australia.
But some states have introduced tighter laws to protect younger people.
In 2012, South Australia moved to outlaw extreme procedures in under 18s, after a surge of shady body-modification surgeries landed two people in intensive care, which was uncovered by the Sunday Mail.
Under Victorian law introduced in 2009, individuals who perform tongue- splitting, scarification, branding or beading in anyone aged under 18 can be fined $6600.
NSW moved swiftly to pass new laws to protect cosmetic surgery patients, after a 35-year-old woman died in 2017 when a breast enhancement procedure went horribly wrong.
Now, anyone who performs high-risk cosmetic procedures in an unlicensed facility in NSW faces a fine of $55,000, under the legislation which passed through state Parliament in May 2018.
NSW Health has a list of ‘high-risk’ procedures that fall within this new law. These include tummy tucks, breast augmentation or reduction, buttocks augmentation (also known as Brazilian butt lifts, or BBL), liposuction and rhinoplasty, to name a few.
But the new legislation does not extend to tongue-splitting.
“NSW Health regularly reviews and updates the list of high-risk procedures,” a NSW Health spokesperson told The New Daily.
The only specific law that would apply for people performing tongue- splitting in adults is the illegal administration of anaesthetics, which can only be delivered by a registered anaesthetist.
NSW to introduce tougher body modification laws
The New Daily understands NSW Health is working on introducing tougher laws specific to the industry.
These recommendations are outlined in the ministry’s 2018 review on cosmetic procedures.
It proposes slapping companies and agencies with a fine for failing to follow strict hygiene-control measures when performing body modification procedures.
Under the proposal, companies could be fined up to $55,000, and individuals up to $11,000, if they are caught breaching the rules.
A NSW Health spokesperson also confirmed that it has recommended extra provisions, even after an individual consents to the procedure. This may include warning sheets or cooling-off periods.
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) said it did not have a specific position on tongue-splitting. But, the college’s general policy is that surgical procedures should be performed “for the improvement of physical or mental health only”, a spokesperson said.