Good news typically does not come out of Cleveland, so today is an auspicious day. According to CNN.com, two week ago an eight-surgeon team performed 22-hours of surgery to transplant the face of a deceased woman onto a woman with a severe deformity in her face. Since the surgery, the recipient has been recovering slowly but comfortably, and has not yet seen her face.
Once upon a time, John Travolta, Nic Cage, and John Woo had a dream that their fantastic (in all senses of the word) film Face/Off would lead to revolutions in face-transplanting technology. Their ridiculous action movie made the case that facial transplants were not just possible, but were easy and totally awesome. Now, just 11 short years later, those days are finally here!
Of course, it's not easy yet. The Cleveland patient has six months of rehab ahead of her, and must relearn how to smile, how to regain her facial motions, and must take an extensive battery of immunosuppressants for the rest of her life. That said, this is wonderful news for a lot of people in the United States. All joking aside, The Common Man hopes that this woman's life is vastly improved by the surgery. It sounds as though her life was both physically and psychicly painful before this, with no right eye, no upper jaw, no sense of smell or taste, and having been called names on the street whenever she ventured out of her home.
That there are people who are against the possibility for this surgery is baffling. One such opponent, Peter Clarke of the Institute of Catholic Bioethics argues that the potential risks and side-effects are unacceptable for a surgery that is not life-or-death. But given the magnitude of the deformities in question, and that this surgery is considered a last resort, and that patients are carefully screened in advance, The Common Man is confident that the surgery is the only viable option for some Americans in order to go on. As Arthur Caplan, the head of the University of Pennsylvania's Medical Ethics Department, points out, "have a huge suicide rate" and their quality of life tends to be poor. And it's not like anyone is going to the surgeon and asking for their face to be taken off so they can get a George Clooney, neither the donors nor the patients have any idea what the other looks like, so they don't get to pick their face. Like with birth, it's the luck of the draw.
The Common Man hopes that medical breakthroughs like this continue, and that these options are available to suffering men and women around the world. Medicine has advanced so far so quickly that the things doctors can do today are practically miracles.