On the ethics of facial transplantation research

Am J Bioeth. 2004 Summer;4(3):1-12. doi: 10.1080/15265160490496507.


Transplantation continues to push the frontiers of medicine into domains that summon forth troublesome ethical questions. Looming on the frontier today is human facial transplantation. We develop criteria that, we maintain, must be satisfied in order to ethically undertake this as-yet-untried transplant procedure. We draw on the criteria advanced by Dr. Francis Moore in the late 1980s for introducing innovative procedures in transplant surgery. In addition to these we also insist that human face transplantation must meet all the ethical requirements usually applied to health care research. We summarize the achievements of transplant surgery to date, focusing in particular on the safety and efficacy of immunosuppressive medications. We also emphasize the importance of risk/benefit assessments that take into account the physical, aesthetic, psychological, and social dimensions of facial disfiguration, reconstruction, and transplantation. Finally, we maintain that the time has come to move facial transplantation research into the clinical phase.

MeSH terms

  • Body Image
  • Clinical Competence
  • Codes of Ethics
  • Confidentiality
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Ethics, Research
  • Face / surgery*
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Informed Consent
  • Organ Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Organ Transplantation / ethics*
  • Patient Selection
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures
  • Privacy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety
  • Therapeutic Human Experimentation / ethics*
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Immunosuppressive Agents