The World's First Face Transplant

The World's First Face TransplantDoctors have been transplanting livers, kidneys, and hearts for over forty years - but faces have always been different. They are seen as a sacred and untouchable part of our identity. Unlike other organs, face transplants are not life saving operations. As a result, ethical committees have always blocked them from going ahead.

In November 2005, 37 year old, mother of two, Isabelle Dinoire became the first person in the world to receive a new face. The decision made by French surgeons to perform the operation went against the findings of almost every other ethical committee in the world and has since sparked a fierce debate over the ethics of the operation.

With the long term effects still unknown, do the risks outweigh the benefits? Are face transplants really in the best interest of the patient?

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Ratings: 7.75/10 from 4 users.

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35 Comments / User Reviews

    Achems Razor
  1. Achems Razor

    Great Doc:

    It is amazing the great advances that are happening now in medical science. And will continue to happen, via our evolution.

    The doc says face transplants are not life saving, I disagree, they are life saving in some cases, when someone is so horribly disfigured.

  2. Charles B.
  3. Charles B.

    Wonderful. Of course face transplants are ethical if they can be done correctly. My only consideration is for the person who donates the face or organs only being "brain dead." That troubles me. Isn't it possible to get organs for transplanting from completely dead donors?

  4. Falcon
  5. Falcon

    It's not a simple issue, walking around with a dead persons face is an ethical problem. I really hope the deseased person had given some kind of OK for this kind of transplant when she was alive. I don't judge the patient, but I think the doctors wanted to make medical history more than anything else. The patient will now be on drugs for the rest of her life, drugs against her own immune system. If there will be a rejection anyway, she will be worse of than she was before. I don't think it was a good documentary, more of a PR film for transplants, without any ethical debate at all. I'm not critical against the patient, I realize that it must be devestating to be disfigured.

  6. Reb
  7. Reb

    Falcon, I tend to lean more in agreement with you. What makes people accept disfigurement due to reconstructive surgery but shy away or become repulsed by disfigurement from accidents? To be perfectly honest, most of these people looked almost as bad after the surgery as they did before and they will still go through life being pointed at and stared at by unfeeling people.

    I guess we are conditioned to only have compassion on victims after they have made every last ditch attempt to become as normal as 'we' would like them to be. It is as if we hold the poor victim somehow responsible for their injuries and prefer they stay out of sight because it makes us uncomfortable. That doesn't speak well for the human race. This whole issue of taking parts from the dead and sewing them into and onto the living is something I have not accepted completely and I wonder if the surgical ordeals and anti-rejection meds for a lifetime is really and truly living. I have known several people during my life who have been extremely disfigured by various accidents and went on to face their new reality and the world the best they could. When you know someone and care for them you know the real them is not in the outside you see. Sure, the lady missing her entire lip area surely needed some sort of reconstruction but surely there was another way other than the face of a corpse.

    I had a neighbor who had a liver transplant when he was in his early 30's and his anti-rejection meds were changed many times before one was found that worked for him and that one is not guaranteed to be accepted forever. He has spent more time in the hospital than at home. His immune system was damaged by the anti-rejection meds and his quality of life is a shadow of what it once was. He will be a patient for the rest of his life and the more time that passes, the more complications come along.

    My heart goes out to anyone damaged so dramatically and it takes a cold hearted devil to stare or mistreat anyone in this situation. We all need to know that we are the same people in heart and mind no matter how I looks may change. Society dictates we become less offensive, not for our sake but for their sake. What a sad cruel place this world can be.

    What about the thousands who were born horribly disfigured? Are they to risk a complete face transplant or keep what they have? This will become a slippery slope one day. Soon our society may not permit the disfigured a place at all. There is a fine line between compassion and compulsion.

    Right now the choice seems to be I. Horrible disfigurement or 2. A lesser degree of horrible disfigurement. Not much of a choice for the amount of pain and suffering for life.

    I just don't know.

  8. Michelle
  9. Michelle

    In response to Charles B....

    I'm not a medical expert but I think the reason for taking the face from a person who is brain-dead was the only option at that point in time because of the fact that once a person is pronounced dead (no brain activity whatsoever) the body begins to instantly undergo the process of decomposition. This would have severely reduced the time the two doctors had left to fly this precious parcel back for attachment to the recipient.

    I understand that other transplanted organs are flown in all the time but the scientific community is much more informed of just how much time they have with say, a heart, a lung or a kidney.

    Falcon and Reb: I understand completely your level of distrust and your being so upset by the quality of life some patients end up with after transplant surgery. I also agree that I would have liked to see more of the ethical debate in this documentary. I think that should have been even more important to address than the procedure even.

    Still, I have to agree with one of the surgeons who commented in the film when he said, ultimately it comes down to choice. It is imperative that the patient fully understand the consequences that arise, including the fact that this may cost you in terms of quality of life. You may end up worse than how you started. Its your choice to take the risk and it is the scientific community's ultimate responsibility to make you aware of that risk.

    When we see people we care about suffering after something like this its natural to blame science for its own self-interest but remember this (as absolutely devilish and cold-hearted as it may sound), there are no successes without failures. Isabelle still is a pioneer and without people to make the brave (and potentially dangerous) choice, we would never see a day where patients can have a higher success rate with these types of operations. We would never see a day where the disfigured can one day have what they can live with if they cannot live with their current state.

    I find myself in the same grey area as Reb with regard to the cruelty of society.

    I am sorry about your neighbor. I, on the other hand, know a good friend who has benefitted from transplantation surgery. Suffering from pulmonary hypertension in her late-teens and early twenties she was rapidly losing the fight and surviving on oxygen tanks. She was told that she would never be able to have children. After receiving a new pair of lungs, she was put on medications for life, but she was also able to marry, and have a beautiful baby girl. She looks healthier than me. lol

    I believe in science for the most part but we do have to always be aware of this most important tool.

  10. Reb
  11. Reb

    Michelle, you make many good points and yes, we have to weigh how much good is done vs the bad. I guess what seemed so obscene was when the arm attached to the man began to just decay due to his inability to deal with the horrible side effects of the anti-rejection drugs. In plain english, this poor man was living with an attached cadavers arm that was beginning to rot away. Those drugs must have really been impossible for him to continue to take to resort to allowing the arm to disintegrate to the point of having to have it surgically removed. That is more like a horrible sci fi movie than what real life should be.

    Can you imagine if a face transplant should ever turn out that way!!! Anyone in that situation would most likely die a horrible death for they would be stuck with that decaying mass of tissue hoping another donor could be found and that is not likely. The only hope would be to remove the donor graft and then graft skin from their own bodies and patch them up as much as possible. There would no longer be any hope at all for any hint of a normal appearance even granting they ever survived such an ordeal. The mental trauma of such an event might be enough to kill the patient. This is all just a bit to macabe for me at this point.

  12. Kelly K.
  13. Kelly K.

    REB: For once a agree with you. I'm not sure the risk is worth the benefit unless it's absolutely necessary.

  14. Falcon
  15. Falcon

    Michelle, the documentary was not about lung transplants, it was about taking a dead womans face, something very personal. We don't even know how the dead woman thought about something like this when she was alive. I hope genetic engineering some day can be used for something good, these kind of cases needs a new technology.

  16. Kelly K.
  17. Kelly K.

    I used to be open to being an organ donor, but then someone pointed out that they usually take brain dead people's organs. If someone really needs your organs, then perhaps the doctors will not try hard enough to save your life if you have a valuble blood type like I do. It gave me food for thought. If kelly is really dead, sure take my face and anything else you want, but make sure I'm really dead first please!


  18. Reb
  19. Reb

    Kelly did you know that killing people for their organs is fast becoming the new criminal enterprise in the world? Mexico is a hotbed for this activity and goes well in explaning child abductions worldwide as well as child sex slave rings. This is one sick world. Aborted full term babies are harvested for parts! I also have rare blood which I came into this world with and plan on leaving the same way.

  20. Dyrbr Jebbedt
  21. Dyrbr Jebbedt

    I don't see any issue with walking around with a dead person's face. It's not like the person who received the transplant is going to look like the donor. The look of a face is defined by underlying features like bone and muscle structure. The skin itself has barely anything to do with it.

    I've read about people before saying it is unethical, creepy, etc. because you could walk down the street and see the face of somebody who is dead, but that is rubbish.

  22. Falcon
  23. Falcon

    Of course they don't look identical, but I don't see people as objects to be used as spare parts, not without consent, and the face is very personal.

  24. Achems Razor
  25. Achems Razor

    Well, everybody:

    Everyone is talking after the fact. The fact is she has a face now.

    So know matter how hard it may be, she can join the human race again.

    There is the matter of "positive" thinking also. which can do wonders to the body. For her, positive thinking along with her Meds. is the key.

    Negativity, I do hope does not enter into her thoughts at all.

    I agree with "Dyrbr Jebbedt" the face will be defined somewhat after time to the persons underlining features, and believe it or not, the mind itself can help to contour the features.

  26. Reb
  27. Reb

    Once again Falcon, I have to side with your views. Everytime I looked into a mirror I would think this face was hours from being in the same grave with the body it was removed from.

    Who knows if the 'donor' would have given consent or not? Should the word of a family member be enough and who is to say that money is not involved?

    I surely would hate to be the recipient of a face the donor would have never 'donated' on their own.

  28. Reb
  29. Reb

    Achem, I am 'positive' this wouldn't be for me. My negs are winning over my pos on this one. For these dear folks on the doc, I wish them well and honor their choice.

  30. Achems Razor
  31. Achems Razor


    Fair enough!


  32. Charles B.
  33. Charles B.

    REB: Believe it or not, I shockingly agree with everything you've said. Miracles never cease! I'm not surprised people (or babies) are being taken for their organs. So scary. I've got 0+ blood which is not "rare" but is a universal donor for positive blood types. Also pretty valuable as "O" can only accept "O" organs (or at least blood). Not so sure if they ever transplant across blood types as they sometimes do with blood in a pinch.

    Mr. Razor: Let's hope since she has had the transplant already that her face isn't rejected later on. Poor lady. I really feel for her.

  34. Charles B.
  35. Charles B.

    Ok: True transplant story time!

    I used to sell Amway (Yeah, like even my own family ran from me when they saw me commin') but that's besides the point. I have a riddle for you from true life! How could the founder of Amway have heart transplant surgery and then actually, and in person, be able to go and thank the young woman that gave him her heart? Hum? Stop! Proceed only if you're stumped.

    The answer: When a person with cystic fibrosis of the lungs gets a transplant and therefore new lungs, it's easier to just give them a heart and lung transplant all together. A youg woman with diseased lungs but a perfect heart got her heart and lung transplant, and then donated her perfect heart to whomever needed it most. It happened to be the founder of Amway, and later we went to the youg woman, and said to her face to face, "Thank you so much for your heart!" Cool, eah? :-)

  36. L
  37. L

    This is so sad... yet inspiring to me. I have a congenital eye condition and after numerous operations look mostly normal but there is always a difference you can tell.. since it's on the face it really makes me self-conscious. But seeing this makes me so happy for what I have and how I look.

  38. Megan
  39. Megan

    Weird that this documentary never mentions the real story behind why her face was mauled by her dog. She was in fact attempting suicide by overdose. After she passed out, her dog tried to wake her up and went to the extreme of physically biting her face. Is it right that so many resources were used to repair the face of a woman who wanted to die? Just a thought.

  40. xxxx
  41. xxxx

    gee, a face is such an ethical problem - but dissecting cadavers for medical practice, using valves, organs, and tissues as spare parts for living people, selling ancient Egyptian mummies for firewood, nothing wrong with that.

    These peeps need to stop with their 'ethical' bull****. It's an excuse they use for advances they're afraid of or believe 'angers God'. There's no reason living people should have to suffer with any type of illness, deformity, or handicap ever.

  42. xxxx
  43. xxxx

    and yeah, Megan, you should probably keep that as 'just a thought'...

  44. Michelle
  45. Michelle

    Falcon, and receiving lungs from a teenage girl isn't a personal? Why? Because no one can see her lungs?

    That was intensely personal.

  46. leo g.
  47. leo g.

    human face is the most personal item of a person,so I hope one day the medical science will be able to reproduce lost organs of the same,stem cells and genetics have advance in a considerable speed this is what I think

  48. gemmmmm
  49. gemmmmm

    the thing is, it's all well and dandy to say its unethical to do this well come along and say that again when its you /your mother/father/son/daughter with a disfigured face.

    i dont see how the face is any more personal than persons lungs or heart.

    at the end of the day, the persons dead, they have given permission to donate their body, as they do not need it any more.

  50. jim bob
  51. jim bob

    i think transplants help people if they have had a bad injury

  52. jim bob
  53. jim bob


  54. cbig1969
  55. cbig1969


    Amazing how people can say this and believe that it's what everyone else should believe. When you die what if it's something different? What if your soul is actually separate from the living body? Yes, you should donate your organs but not for this drunken, high off weed or some other awareness shortening drug reason. Robert, you no doubt spend the majority of your life getting high and never taking anything serious.


    Blessings have to have an origin, they don't just come from no where, so does karma.

  56. ishrat babli
  57. ishrat babli

    God bless her, and everybody who have normal face and health and life please be great full to God.God bless all.

  58. Trisha Reyna
  59. Trisha Reyna

    I just want to say one thing, wouldn't it be weird to you to see your dead loved one's face walking around on someone else body? That's not creepy at all to anyone.... No one?

  60. aristotel
  61. aristotel

    it wouldnt look like your relation because the bone structure is the recipients

  62. aristotel
  63. aristotel

    there is no evidence nor possible way there could be anything after death,is your computer still working when you swith it off?Thats what everyone with a brain should believe but its a personal choice.There is no soul,it has no meaning,theres a brain and a body,no soul,your spirit is a product of the brain and dies when the brain dies ,all over,theres nothing negative about that,its nature.

  64. aristotel
  65. aristotel

    exactly,its because the face means so much to a persons identity,the lungs are purely functional.The reason people are getting face transplants (several since then)is for appearnce ,not function.It severely ***** up their self esteem,lings dont tend to do that!

  66. aristotel
  67. aristotel

    she wanted to die at that moment,sinc ethen shes recovered enough mentally to have found a reason to live,thats thousands of people since history began.She deserved to get the op as much as anyone .Your thoughts are mixed up.How about millions wasted on crap by the government,expenses in iraq,afghanistan,other bullshit selfish reasons ,welfare for the unemployed who dont even want work?

  68. Abamovich
  69. Abamovich

    You already are experiencing life after death. You were 'dead' before you were born.

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