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The world’s first human face transplant will likely occur in the next few months at the Cleveland Clinic, and plastic surgeons are screening seriously disfigured people as candidates for the initial attempt. There is much for a potential face recipient to consider, including an ominous set of warnings in the consent form.

From the USA Today article:

The “consent form” says that this surgery is so novel and its risks so unknown that doctors don’t think informed consent is even possible.

Here is what it tells potential patients:

Your face will be removed and replaced with one donated from a cadaver, matched for tissue type, age, sex and skin color. Surgery should last 8 to 10 hours; the hospital stay, 10 to 14 days.

Complications could include infections that turn your new face black and require a second transplant or reconstruction with skin grafts. Drugs to prevent rejection will be needed lifelong, and they raise the risk of kidney damage and cancer.

After the transplant you might feel remorse, disappointment, or grief or guilt toward the donor. The clinic will try to shield your identity, but the press likely will discover it.

The clinic will cover costs for the first patient; nothing about others has been decided.

Another form tells donor families that the person receiving the face will not resemble their dead loved one. The recipient should look similar to how he or she did before the injury because the new skin goes on existing bone and muscle, which give a face its shape.

Some might claim that these risks completely outweigh any benefit of a face transplant, but then, it’s easy to say that when it isn’t one’s own face. Even the most open-minded, non-judgmental individual can have initial difficulty communicating with someone whose face is an unnatural scar-tissue mask as a result of burning or other accidents; and it must be horrible for those disfigured to see the stares and hear the whispered comments. It isn’t a matter of vanity, but of being accepted in society that is too imperfect to accept disfigured people smoothly.

Despite the potential improvements in quality of life, the possible problems are daunting to a prospective patient, such as the risk that the new face will be rejected by the body, turn black, and slough off over time. And the anti-rejection drugs will weaken their immune system considerably, increasing risk of serious diseases and cancer. This surgery certainly has the potential to make a disfigured individual’s life much better, or much worse.

Suggested by Diana, found on BoingBoing (more links on BoingBoing posting).

USA Today article