Monday, July 26, 2010

What’s In a Face?

That may be the question of the future, as medical experts conduct more face transplants.

Today, the world’s first full face transplant recipient – identified only as “Oscar” – showed off his new face at a press conference at a Spanish hospital.

Last March, over 30 doctors at the University Hospital Vall D’Hebron in Barcelona, Spain worked on “Oscar” whose face was severely injured in an accident.

The surgeons transplanted the entire facial skin and muscles, including the nose, lips, cheekbones, even the complete mouth, including the palate and teeth.

The full face transplant took just over 24 hours of surgery, and months of recovery.

Partial face transplants had successfully been done previously in France, China, the United States and Spain.

Organ donation has always been a controversial topic, but now may be reaching new levels of complexity. When an organ donor provides a much needed heart or liver to a person in need, the chances of the donor’s friends and family recognizing him or her are seldom to none.

In fact, one of the golden rules of organ donation is the donor’s family and friends are never told the name of the person or persons receiving the life-saving organs.

But a face – a human face – is perhaps the most common way we recognize one another.

Imaging walking down the street only to be shocked to see your deceased best friend stroll past? The thought is enough to send ghostly shivers up one’s spine.

Is it right to transpose another person’s likeness – their face – upon someone else? If we were able to alter the original face, how much is enough – and is this even ethically correct? Should the family and friends of the donor be told who the recipient of the new face is ahead of time? Should the donor’s family and the recipient’s meet – and if so, do either party have a vote in whether or not to proceed?

As modern medicine constantly amazes with new ways to mend us, we as a society will have to tackle the complex philosophical and ethical questions about the nature and value of these modern medicinal cures.

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