The Challenge of Transplants to an Intersubjectively Established Sense of Personal Identity

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Abstract

Face transplants have been performed, in a small number, since 2005. Popular concern over the morality of the face transplant has tended to focus on the role that one's face plays in one's sense of self or one's personal identity. In order to address this concern, the current paper will explore the significance of face transplants in the light of a theory of the self that draws on symbolic interactionism, narrative theory, and accounts of embodiment. The paper will respond to certain presuppositions concerning personal identity made by Huxtable and Woodley. A theory of the self will be articulated that draws on the work of Merleau-Ponty and G. H. Mead, in order to place embodiment and social interaction centrally to an understanding of self-identity. This will allow an account of the nature of the suffering that a face transplant seeks to remedy, and its worth as an operation, and crucially the impact that it may have on the sense of personal identity of the recipient of the transplant. The conclusion will review the treatment in the context of the prejudices that members of contemporary societies may hold against those with disfigurements.

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