If it ain't broke don't fix it? Ethics of splinting deformed newborn ears

M. P. van Wijk, R. H.P. Wouters, A. L. Bredenoord, M. Kon, C. C. Breugem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Neonatal ear splinting is a proven and safe method to mold deformed ears into a more common shape. Based on our earlier studies, splinting is recommended only before the age of six weeks and preferably within the first week after birth. This can be done by initiating a system in which this intervention is actively proposed to parents. In this paper, we ethically evaluate such a system. By molding perfectly healthy newborn ears, we reach the boundary between treatment and enhancement. A key question is, therefore, whether we could classify neonatal ear splinting as a therapy. On the level of the individual, the advantages outweigh the drawbacks, but on the level of society, it is more complicated. Making ear deformities a part of official national screening programs fails to meet WHO criteria. Moreover, by systematically offering ear molding, professionals may be promoting guilt or fear of missing the opportunity. Additionally, it could affect societal attitudes toward cosmetic deformities. However, if we argue that on the individual level infants may benefit from ear splinting, then active detection of ear deformities allows parents to choose in a timely way from the full range of options, including splinting and a wait-and-see approach. We are inclined to optimally inform parents without setting up a full-blown public health program. The extent to which it is possible to timely offer splints to parents of newborns depends on the infrastructure of health care systems. The key will be for everyone involved, public or commercial, to responsibly educate and facilitate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1396-1402
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Ear
  • Ethics
  • Neonate
  • Public health
  • Screening
  • Splinting


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