March 5, 2024

First face transplant approaches

No longer science fiction

A dozen people with facial disfigurements have queued up to become the first person to receive a face transplant. Five men and seven women are to be interviewed by the Cleveland Clinic in the US for a radical operation which may have only a 50/50 chance of success. Even if it is successful, the surgeons do not guarantee that the patient will ever look normal and they could end up looking worse. Most of the shortlisted people are burns victims who are otherwise healthy. Cancer victims and children are not being considered.

The issue of face transplants raises a number of tricky bioethical issues. Can patients give informed consent to such a risky operation? What are the ethics of changing a person’s identity? Is the operation worth a lifetime on immunosuppressant drugs, given that facial disfigurement is not life-threatening?

Although some people with severely disfigured faces are tormented by shame and depression, not all feel that it is the end of the world. Living with a scarred, different face is not that horrible,” Betsy Wilson, a woman who lost her lower jaw to cancer 30 years ago, told the London Times.