The Ultimate Face-Lift: French doctors take transplantation one step further


French doctors have successfully transplanted a face. So far the storyline for movies such as the John Travolta/Nicolas Cage Face/Off, face transplants represent a big step forward (backward? sideways?) in transplant surgery. A skin graft here and there is one thing; a new face—someone else's—is another.

According to The Washington Post, the partial face graft was intended to help someone who had been badly injured by a dog—so much so that she had difficulty eating and speaking. Nose, lips, and chin were included. There seems to have been some disagreement among doctors as to whether this was a last resort. The ethics committee had apparently approved the procedure only as a last resort. And a leading French medical ethicist has denounced it as an "experiment" conducted with "undue haste."

The Post reports that controversy has followed:

News of the operation brought criticism from some medical ethicists, who questioned whether a high-risk transplant should be performed for cosmetic reasons on patients who do not have life-threatening injuries. There also are potential psychological ramifications for patients in swapping one of the most personal and individual features of a body, which for many people is a reflection of persona.

For many people? That does seem like an understatement!

Then an even more bizarre twist to the story—or two twists. According to the UK Guardian newspaper, not only has the surgery been condemned as unethical, both the women involved—the recipient and the dead donor—had attempted suicide:

Transplant patient Isabelle Dinoire, from Valenciennes, north of Amiens, was reported to have overdosed on pills ...
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Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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