A doctor in Cleveland is interviewing patients for a first ever, ghoulish-sounding operation--a face transplant. The story is fairly detailed, but I was struck by this information about the consent forms:
The "consent form" says that this surgery is so novel and its risks so unknown that doctors don't think informed consent is even possible.
Here is what it tells potential patients:
Your face will be removed and replaced with one donated from a cadaver, matched for tissue type, age, sex and skin color. Surgery should last 8 to 10 hours; the hospital stay, 10 to 14 days.
Complications could include infections that turn your new face black and require a second transplant or reconstruction with skin grafts. Drugs to prevent rejection will be needed lifelong, and they raise the risk of kidney damage and cancer.
After the transplant you might feel remorse, disappointment, or grief or guilt toward the donor. The clinic will try to shield your identity, but the press likely will discover it.
The clinic will cover costs for the first patient; nothing about others has been decided.
Another form tells donor families that the person receiving the face will not resemble their dead loved one. The recipient should look similar to how he or she did before the injury because the new skin goes on existing bone and muscle, which give a face its shape.
All of the little things that make up facial expression — mannerisms like winking when telling a joke or blushing at a compliment — are hard-wired into the brain and personality, not embedded in the skin.
Some research suggests the end result would be a combination of the two appearances.
Surgeons will graft skin to cover the donor's wound, but a closed casket or cremation will be required.