April 7, 2003 10:02 AM   Subscribe

All your face are belong to us. 16-yr-old Irish girl looks set to receive the world's first face transplant, it has been reported. Right now it's a medical procedure, but do you think we ever see a day where people grow face replacements for cosmetic purposes?
posted by piskycritter (22 comments total)
of course... we accept breast implants, nose jobs, chin jobs, butt jobs, etc jobs as relatively normal, and time along with technology erodes all community moral and ethical sensibilities when it comes to physical appearances.
posted by xmutex at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2003

The operation, at London's Royal Free Hospital, will involve peeling away the face of a four-hour-old corpse.

Is there some particular four-hour-old corpse they're thinking of? Or will it just be "We're very sorry, but we've lost your daughter. There was nothing we could do. So, can we rip her face off now please?"
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2003

This reminds me of William Gibson's "Count Zero" where the gangs all had engineered faces to look alike. It's been a while but I remember something about all the Kasuals being engineered to look like James Dean.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:24 AM on April 7, 2003

P-G - it seems clear enough, they will just check the clock at the scheduled time of the surgery, and pull the face from whichever corpse came in within the last four hours. If the corpse happens to belong to an old Chinese man, so be it, it's not like the Irish girl can complain, she's getting a new face here, this is uncharted territory, there are gonna be a few wrinkles to iron out.
posted by jonson at 10:29 AM on April 7, 2003

Isn't there a question of identity here? I mean, imagine your high school sweetheart getting in a car accident ...and a couple of years later you see her face on someone else's body. *shiver* Doesn't the face have some sort of special place in our conception of who a person is? Isn't that what makes this especially creepy?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:29 AM on April 7, 2003

speaking of wrinkles, can anyone hazard a guess as to how they're going to manage to connect all that skin and tissue to the underlying muscle? Is this girl going to be able to smile ever again?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2003

I doubt the girl will look like the donor, as the muscles and bone structure will be her own. Probably more look a sister or cousin.
Don't see any moral or ethical dilemas at all, just another medical advance that will improve people's lives.
posted by signal at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2003

Signal - do you see no difference between this and, say, a kidney transplant? The face? Not judging, just curious.
posted by jonson at 10:41 AM on April 7, 2003

face transplant, kidney transplant = the same to me. really. This girl will have a shock when she sees an actual face in the mirror - it reads as if she hasn't really had a face [just a burnt mask] all her life. I do hope this transplant goes well.
posted by dabitch at 10:46 AM on April 7, 2003

Minor nitpick: it doesn't alter the technical/ethical issues, but the last I saw on this story was this Guardian piece, Family may sue over face transplant story, saying the London Evening Standard had named the wrong girl as recipient.
posted by raygirvan at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2003

I've got to agree that the face probably won't look much like its original donor once it's transplanted. Bone structure has a lot to do with how we look.

I would also guess from the article that the recipient's injuries are so severe that, perfectly working muscles or no, a healthy face will be a quality-of-life improvement for her.

For me this isn't a moral quandary - not in cases where someone is so badly burned or scarred as to make it hard for them to go about their daily life. Let the record show: feel free to peel my face of my corpse once I'm gone. I won't need it.
posted by hilatron at 10:52 AM on April 7, 2003

I'm not talking moral quandry here, just shiver-factor. There seems to be a qualitative difference between a face-transplant and other ameliorative cosmetic surgeries. I don't oppose the surgery, but I also don't imagine I'm alone in my reaction. ("Eeeeww!" -basically)
posted by leotrotsky at 11:01 AM on April 7, 2003

More here.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:09 AM on April 7, 2003

I guess I'm not creeped out because this is no John Woo movie; these face transplants are not going to make someone look exactly like your dead Aunt Sally. That would, indeed, be creepy. But giving a burn victim a chance to go to the grocery store without being stared at? That's cool.

(Having said all this, I'll pass on the opportunity to watch the face-peeling-off-and-reattaching process. I'm firmly in the "ew!" camp on that. This is why I leave the doctoring to others.)
posted by hilatron at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2003

piskycritter - ugly people got money too.
posted by banished at 11:26 AM on April 7, 2003

What I wonder is how the recipient will "take" to the face -- in other words, are "you" "your" face? How strongly is self-identity associated with one's own body?

There's a fellow who received a new arm; he's quite pleased with it, and has no complaints. But another fellow with a similar transplant had it removed in the end, saying it feld "like a dead man's hand."

How much more so a face?
posted by five fresh fish at 12:08 PM on April 7, 2003

But another fellow with a similar transplant had it removed in the end, saying it feld "like a dead man's hand."

it would seem the full success of operations such as these rest with the recipient's psychology... i don't know that i could survive with a face or arm that was not originally my own. sitting here in my own skin and thinking about it i know i'm ferociously attached to my own appearance, possibly to the detriment of ever needing some sort of cosmetic transplant.
posted by t r a c y at 12:21 PM on April 7, 2003

jonson: of course I see a difference, especially as relates to the recipents self-image, socail interaction ,etc. I just don't see an ethical or moral dilemma. Saving somebody from a life of pain = good, anyway you look at it.
posted by signal at 12:31 PM on April 7, 2003

Sort of gives a sheet of altruism to the old rockstar saw 'live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse," dunnit.

Just be sure to fill out that donor card (is my face an organ?)
posted by luser at 12:58 PM on April 7, 2003

leotrotsky: I doubt very much that the recipient will have exactly the same bone structure as the donor so she probably wouldn't be a perfect facial copy.
posted by dr_dank at 1:37 PM on April 7, 2003

After they take off the face and any other organs, do they drain all the blood from the donor for transfers?
posted by Iax at 1:42 PM on April 7, 2003

Jeez, what's almost as creepy as the thought of a face transplant is the fact that this is the second post today to include an "all your base" joke...
posted by UKnowForKids at 6:00 PM on April 7, 2003

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