Novel Insights Into the 1969 Whole-Eye Transplant: Medical Ethics and Evolving Safety Mechanisms

Am J Ophthalmol. 2022 Jun:238:120-127. doi: 10.1016/j.ajo.2022.01.009. Epub 2022 Jan 14.


Purpose: The controversial whole-eye transplant (WET) of 1969 performed by Texas Medical Center (TMC) eye surgeon Conard Moore, MD, is examined to determine whether he performed a WET or a different operation. New materials are reviewed to evaluate the conflicting historical WET reports: Moore claimed that he performed the world's first WET, then retracted his claim amid criticism. Medical and ethical factors are explored. The parameters for experimental surgery of that era are compared to current policies.

Design: Retrospective study.

Methods: This is a retrospective analysis of a single patient's ophthalmic operations performed in April 1969 and the controversial claim of the world's first WET. Oral and written interviews with witnesses were conducted. Primary and secondary literature sources were reviewed. Ocular illustrations provided by the surgeon in 1969 were reviewed and compared to verbal reports.

Results: A newly uncovered book chapter by Moore's departmental chairman Louis Girard, MD, supports the initial claim of a WET, as do recent interviews with medical journalist Miriam Kass, JD. Ophthalmic pathologist Milton Boniuk, MD, states that he did not receive the whole eye for examination. Moore made his claim of a WET amid the intense attention to TMC's aggressive heart transplantation operations. Moore retracted his claim after professional criticism.

Conclusions: New evidence supports Moore's initial claim that he performed a WET, although other scenarios remain plausible. This case highlights the boundary between accepted and experimental operations, and underscores the need for modern bioethics oversight to provide safeguards for novel surgical procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Eye
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surgeons*