Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Eyes without a face

The French woman who recently had a full face transplant is now 'able to smile and looks more like herself'. Or more accurately, herself, with addition of a nose, lips and chin from a brain-dead donor's face. Although it's a fascinating medical development, the ethical and psychological aspects of carrying out this type of surgery remain to be seen.

So much of a person's identity is invested in their face when alive. Would the the newly bereaved be comfortable in donating the facial tissue of their 'loved one', in the knowledge of the physical disfigurement to the body it would incur, and the awareness that those features, albeit in soft tissue form, will be transplanted onto a stranger? Even for potentially less emotive organ donations, the health service is unable to match donors with needy recipients - at present over 7000 people are registered as needing transplants of various organs, with less than 4000 registered as potential or actual donors (living or deceased). (UK Transplant statistics).

What might the potential psychological effects be on someone, knowing they have 'received' part of the face of a dead person? How might this affect one's perception of individuality and personal identity? The man who had the world's first hand transplant eventually asked for it to be removed, as he wasn't happy having someone else's hand. But a face?

George Franju's elegantly dreamlike black and white film 'Eyes Without a Face' (1960) is about face transplants, from a classic horror perspective... so many haunting images remain with you long after the film has finished, of the heroine gliding around in her white gown and mask (in pic above), waiting for yet another a 'donated' face procured by her monstrous surgeon father... Yes, I know it's fiction and intended as horror, but still interesting for different ideas about current issues... nothing's really new, is it?

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