The changing face of transplant surgery

WOULD you let someone else wear your face after your death? And if your face is badly injured or burned, how would you feel about waking up looking like someone else?Those questions were opened to serious debate today when a leading surgeon revealed that face transplants could be possible in Britain within six to nine months.

WOULD you let someone else wear your face after your death? And if your face is badly injured or burned, how would you feel about waking up looking like someone else?

Those questions were opened to serious debate today when a leading surgeon revealed that face transplants could be possible in Britain with six to nine months.

Peter Butler, a consultant plastic surgeon at London's Royal Free Hospital, said: "The question is not 'can we do it?' but 'should we do it?'

"Those who have suffered severe facial deformities from burns, cancer patients who have had facial surgery, or people who have been disfigured in accidents could benefit.


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"The moral and ethical debate needs to be raised in a public way to find out what the issues are that need to be addressed."

Mr Butler said a survey of people's attitudes, including doctors, nurses and lay people, had highlighted some serious concerns about face transplants.

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He said: "While people would, in general, accept a face transplant if they required it, they would actually not be willing to donate."

He admitted that face transplants pose a different set of problems from transplants of such parts as livers and kidneys because a person's identity is so closely associated with their face.

Christine Piff, of Let's Face It, a support group for people who are facially disfigured, told the BBC she would not choose a face transplant.

She said: "There's a hesitancy on my part, thinking that I would be wearing another face that didn't belong to me.

"But when I look at it logically, this is 2002, this is going to happen."

Dr Aric Sigman, a psychologist, said the operation would be aimed at people with serious disfigurements.

But he said: "What we don't know is what happens when they wake up with someone else's face."

And he warned: "The chances are, it won't be long before it's used for aesthetic reasons."

The actual method of transplanting faces was set to be debated today at a conference of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons in London.

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