Face Transplant Review Suggests the Procedure Be Offered More

Thursday, 01 May 2014 10:37 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Face transplant procedures have long been declared unethical and immoral by critics, considering they can potentially put a person's life at risk to resolve an issue that is non-life threatening. However, a recently released comprehensive review of the procedure challenges that criticism.

On Sunday, a report was published in The Lancet medical journal by physicians from several leading U.S. medical facilities, including Baltimore's University of Maryland Medical Center and New York University's Langone Medical Center. The physicians found that the procedure is generally safe and feasible and should be offered to more patients, The New York Times reported.

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The procedure, which is usually offered to people who have had their faces drastically disfigured due to animal attacks, car accidents or shootings, is expensive — approximately $300,000 — all of which is paid for by the patient considering it is not yet covered by any insurance policies. The procedure is still in its nascent stages; to date, there have been 28 face transplant procedures performed since the first was done on a French woman in 2005 after her Labrador retriever mauled her face, LiveScience reported.

Of the six women and 22 men who have undergone face transplant procedures, all have reportedly experienced some sort of complication or infection as a result of the surgery. However, the report published in the Lancet medical journal found that while three individuals died after receiving the procedure, their deaths were not directly linked to the surgery, LiveScience noted. Instead the deaths were attributed to unrelated infections and cancer.

Further, the report found that while there were complications associated with all the face transplant procedures so far, the patients did not chronically rejected their new organs or tissues.

"By far, the overriding factor in the success of face transplantation has been in selecting patients most likely to benefit from and succeed through what can best be described as the most complex of medical-surgical procedures," Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a statement obtained by LiveScience. "This is a life-changing treatment that can take years to prepare for, and one that hopefully endures for the rest of the patient's life."

"People who volunteer to undergo this procedure do so for very serious health and psychological reasons," Rodriguez added. "Without facial transplantation as an option, many of these people would be at serious risk for severe depression, even potential suicide."

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