Sunday, September 18, 2005

Trading Faces

This story falls under the "anything else that catches my attention" category.

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.


Anonymous said...

I've been following the face transplant research for almost a year now and I must say that I'm surprised at your disgust over the issue. There was a time when the idea of a heart transplant was considered preposterous, yet now is nearly a standard procedure. Similarly, facial transplants are a great leap for medical science and if successful, has the capabilities to revolutionize the lives of burn victims and others with severe deformities. The side effects you listed are what I expected. There is a risk of rejection in any transplant of foreign tissue and should a patient suffer such an event, they'll be better off than someone whose body attacks a vital organ. As for those who would feel "emotional shock" over the mere glimpse of another face in the mirror, It's safe to say that they probably feel more distressed waking up to a horribly disfigured face everyday and would be happy to regain even a remote sense of normal life. Besides, any person that does not feel emotionally shocked by having anything attached to them that was not originally there is shallow and obviously not very self reflective or grateful at all for that matter. I'd feel strange either way whether I was using a dead man's face or his kidney. After all, what is a face but skin?

Darren said...

Disgust? It *sounds* ghoulish, but I don't view it as anything other than an extremely novel surgery. I'm quite interested in it.

You've obviously misinterpreted my remarks. All I covered here were the consent forms, which I found extremely interesting.