New Jen's Horde

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Face Transplant

Doctors in Cleveland are getting ready to attempt the world's first face transplant.

When I first read the headline, my mind immediately jumped to international spies or supercriminals trying to conceal their identity, so I think I need to lay off the mass media for a while. What they're actually attempting to do is create a new face for patients who have been disfigured by burns or in accidents.

It's a fascinating article, apparently the technology has been available for 20 years or so, but there are many ethical constraints to performing this procedure, not the least of which being the question of what will happen if the skin is rejected. Tissue rejection is common in transplant surgeries, but this would be psychologically difficult and extremely gruesome, and many believe it is not worth the risk since the patients aren't in a life or death situation to begin with.

Add to that the ethical dilemma of making sure the donor families understand they will not be "seeing" their loved one walking around, as much of what makes a person look like they do is their bone structure and muscle movements. Also, knowing that, unlike other donations, the donor family will be forced to cremate their loved ones or have a closed casket service can make it more difficult to find people who want to participate.

What would you do? Would you be comfortable with a new face? Would you be comfortable allowing someone else to use your loved one's face? Your child's face?

I think you are looking at some huge psychological impact. can you imagine, looking in the mirror for 34 years and seeing your face daily, then one day looking in the mirror and a total stranger is looking back at you?! I sincerly hope LOTS of counseling goes along with this medical procedure.

(BTW: I thought of spies too...)
People who are so disfigured as to need a face transplant already have all kinds of pyschological problems just from being disfigured.

I'm all for it, in cases of extreme disfigurement, even though the idea of it creeps me out really bad. I might not be so in favor of it if I hadn't once encountered a man whose face was horribly disfigured in person. He'd been shot in the face, not scarred by burns, though. His nose was completely gone. He came up to my teller window when I worked in a bank. The other tellers all knew him but I was new and didn't--it was such a shock. I literally had an adrenaline rush just from looking at him. It was all I could do to cash his check for him. I felt really bad because none of the other tellers had any noticeable reaction at all. After he left I asked one of them about it, and she said the first time she saw him she went in the back and threw up.

No one should have to live with that kind of reaction from people. And it's a normal reaction to have.

I don't think burns scars are as bad as what this man had, though.
I was kind of thinking the same way both of you were....

On the one hand, it would be a huge change. But, on the other, they're acting like they're doing these patients a favor by making it difficult to get this procedure. But, we do elective cosmetic procedures every day all over the world. People die from them ALL THE TIME. I say let the patient decide if the risk is worth it. They're not stupid, just disfigured, they can decide.

I keep thinking about it. At first I wasn't so sure. Now I think I'd be OK with it. The more I think about it, the more questions there are, though. Would I be as OK leaving my face to someone who wasn't disfigured, but merely wanted a younger face? Eventually this procedure may be used merely as a beautification method. I wouldn't need my face if I was dead, but...

I guess I'm just still thinking this through.
It's hard to imagine this ever being done as a beautification procedure. The risk of dying from it is too great, not to mention the cost of the medicine you have to take for the rest of your life. I suppose someday they may improve their medicines to where it isn't life threatening to take them, but I doubt that's anywhere near to being around the corner.
Oh, but you know what really freaked me out? The hand transplant done a few years ago. I just can't get with that one.
I agree that it seems very freaky. And the chances for rejection are that could lead to a bigger mess.
But if heaven forbid something were to happen to me or my child I would be okay with the donation. If it were my child I would not want to see the results at all.
As always - You amaze me. Such little ethical dilemas you bring up. If you were against us I would be frightened!
My thoughts on this one are a little confused. I think I'd be fine with receiving, or having a loved one receive, a donated face. I DON'T think I'd be ok with either myself or a family member BEING a donor. I just can't get my head around the thought that they'd be buried without a face--I mean, I know they wouldn't need it, but something about it really bothers me...
Oh, Jen! Way to lay a heavy on me!!
I am inclined to say go ahead with this for those who are willing to take the risk and for those who are willing to allow their loved one to be a donor.
People who must "face" daily life with horrible facial disfigurements are the only ones who know if this surgery would be worth the risk. I hope for their sake that this becomes an option and that the risks can be minimized.
I was told that it's your face and your voice that identifies you to you. In other words, people who lose their face (burned, etc...) usually feel they've lost themselves. It is hard to get past that loss. Loss of one's voice, does the same thing on a smaller scale. I know this from personal experience. When you no longer sound like you, or sound like a normal person, you feel like you've been lost as well.
It's hard to explain, but I feel so sorry for the people who have scarred faces. I hope this medical technology is able to help them regain their confidence and feeling of self. What a wonderful thing that would be!
The more I think about it, the more I say the heck with it, let people do it. I'm sure they can figure out whether the risks are worth it to them.

I do think that eventually, if this procedure is successful, it will be used for mere beautification. After all, plastic surgery as we know it today started on the battlefield repairing faces ripped by shrapnel. But, if the individual is capable of understanding the possible consequences, it shouldn't be an ethical issue.
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