Attitudes to Face Transplantation: Results of a Public Engagement Exercise at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

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Abstract

Hettiaratchy and Butler (Lancet 2002;360:5–6) framed face transplantation as the next logical step on the reconstructive ladder for severe facial injury, in particular, pan-facial burns. The procedure formed the basis for a Royal College of Surgeons of England working party report. Ethical, surgical, and psychological issues were identified as research priorities before face transplantation is attempted in the United Kingdom. Public engagement is a vital mechanism if people are to be informed about the risks and benefits of the technique and ultimately to be able to consent to either receiving or donating facial tissue. To sample public opinion about the procedure, 304 people attending the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition were sampled by online questionnaire to determine their attitude toward face transplantation. Although people were more cautious about face transplantation when comparing this with solid-organ transplantation, most of the sample were in favor of the procedure, whether receiving a donor face or donating their own face after their death. Only 10% were against the idea in principle. Concerns about altered identity were not a barrier to face transplantation for 69% of the sample, with most people appropriately identifying the long-term problems of immunosuppression as the issue that most concerned them. There is a substantial population of people who, given the right circumstances, would contemplate face transplantation for themselves and would be willing to donate their own face for transplantation after their death.

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