Face Transplant Sparks Debate
You've probably heard the news about the nation's first face transplant. But here's a quick recap: Yesterday, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic detailed an unprecedented 22-hour operation in which they transplanted about 80 percent of a dead woman's face onto the face of a woman whose face had suffered massive damage. This is only the fourth time anything like this has been tried -- two were done previously in France and one was done in China. But this is the first in North America and by far the most extensive. The recipient essentially had the entire middle of her face -- from the bottom of her eyes to her upper jaw -- rebuilt.
When the first such operation was reported in France in 2005 it triggered massive criticism. People were worried that the recipient, a 38-year-old mother of two named Isabelle Dinoire, had put her life in jeopardy to resolve a problem that might have been terrible, but was definitely not life-threatening. And there were lots of other worries: Would this eventually lead to people getting transplants for purely cosmetic reasons? Or to steal someone's identity (a la the 1997 Nicholas Cage/John Travolta movie "Face/Off")?
But since then lot of critics have come around. Dinoire seems to be doing well, and it turns out that the recipients don't really end up looking like the donors.
That's not to say no one is worried. There are lots of unanswered questions. It remains to be seen how long these transplants will last or what would happen if the body rejects the transplanted tissue. Some say a rejection would be so awful that doctors should be prepared to offer physician-assisted suicide. And it's far from clear how people will adjust psychologically to wearing someone else's face, even if it doesn't look exactly like the person they got it from. Then there's the question about whether people will be less likely to agree to become organ donors if they think their faces might get taken along with their hearts, kidneys and other organs.
What do you think? Care to weigh in on this provocative new development in the world of medicine?
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