When Hollywood movie makers produced the box-office hit Face-Off in 1997, starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, little did they know that face transplant surgery would not only remain as a fictional movie idea, instead become more closer to reality than they ever imagined!
Moviegoers around the world anticipated that face transplant surgery depicted in the movie would only remain a distant and impossible reality. One can only imagine how impossible it is to swap faces with another human being and bearing a different identity altogether as portrayed by the characters in the movie.
Decades ago, organ transplants and organ cloning seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. Today, it is a relatively common operation. With today’s technology and medical advancements in cosmetic surgery, it is no wonder that face transplants surgery need be a thing of the distant future instead; it is now an achievable reality in present times.
A face transplant surgery would involve removing a patient’s disfigured face caused by cancer, burns or other injuries by replacing it with a donor’s face including skin, underlying muscle and soft tissue containing the nerves and blood vessels which is necessary for function. The donor, however, would not be a living human being but from a dead donor, whose family has already given consent for the transplant.
According to the Royal College of Surgeons of England, computer-imaging techniques suggested that the transplanted face would neither look like the donor nor the recipient; therefore it is difficult to predict how a person would look like after the transplant. The newly transplanted face would take on more of the recipient’s skeleton characteristics rather than the soft tissues of the donor and would be matched based on the tissue type, age, sex and skin color. It is also believed that the recipient should be able to perform the normal functions such as eating, drinking, and communicating through a wide variety of facial expressions and mannerisms.
Choosing the right recipient…
Though facial transplant promises to provide a solution to improve the quality of life of those whose faces have been disfigured by accidents and diseases, it is also advisable that the recipient be someone who is seriously disfigured.
[quote]“You would want to choose patients who are really disfigured not someone who has a little scar yet with enough healthy skin for traditional grafts in case the transplant fails,” [/quote] according to Dr Maria Siemionow, a surgeon of the Cleveland Clinic in the United States.
Doctors in the US have already carried out the procedure on cadavers donated for medical research and the transplant has a 50 percent proven success rate. Dr Maria Siemionow believes that it is time to take it to the next step. After taking more than a year to win the approval of the 13 member Institutional Review Board, which included surgeons, psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, nurses and patient advocates, the Cleveland Clinic team led by Dr Siemionov will be interviewing potential candidates deemed suitable for the operation for the 8 to 10 hour procedure.
In the following weeks, five men and seven women will secretly visit the Cleveland Clinic to interview for a chance to have a radical operation that’s never been attempted before anywhere in the world. They will smile, raise their eyebrows, close their eyes, open their mouths while Dr. Siemionow will study their cheekbones, lips and noses and question them what they hope to gain and what they fear the most. Then she will ask the ultimate question:
[quote]“Are you afraid that you will look like another person?”[/quote]
Because whoever she chooses for the procedure will have to endure the ultimate identity crisis.
Local experts say the medical ability for this procedure has already been proven and the only thing that has been holding it back is ethical concerns regarding the procedure. France and England both have face transplant teams, and were close to attempting the procedure, but were stopped due to ethical concerns.
Among the concerns expressed by various parties include the need for patients to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for life, which carries long-term health risks. There is also the concern that the individuals involved and their loved ones may not be able to psychologically accept their new face and identity.
Though it cannot be denied that face transplant surgery offers disfigured patients a chance for a better life, it is cautioned that until further research and the prospect of better control of these complications is fully known, it would be unwise to proceed with human face transplantation.
So, the question still remains, does the benefits outweigh the risks involved? Perhaps a better understanding and education is needed to ensure people that they actually know what they are getting themselves into.