A team of doctors from Louisville and the Netherlands say in a new medical journal article that they are ready to perform a face transplant, a procedure considered controversial by some medical ethicists.
"There arrives a point in time when the procedure should simply be done. We submit that that time is now," the researchers wrote in an article scheduled for publication Friday in The American Journal of Bioethics. The procedure attaches the face of a dead donor to someone with a severely disfigured face, such as a burn or accident victim.
The doctors said they don't have a prime candidate for the procedure, and they are not actively screening for candidates.
They have submitted an application to an institutional review board in the Netherlands and are nearly ready to submit one to an independent board in the United States.
The Louisville doctors said they would not perform the transplant without approval from one of the boards, which are designed to protect medical research subjects' rights.
"The people we're considering are people who have no other options," Dr. John H. Barker, director of plastic surgery research at the University of Louisville, told The Courier-Journal newspaper.
Nichola Rumsey of the University of the West of England, an expert in psychosocial issues in medicine, said the ethical issues of the procedure have yet to be fully explored. She wrote one of 14 essays written in reaction to the article and published in the bioethics journal.
"Previous research and current understanding indicate that the psychological risks are more complex and extensive than the Louisville team suggest," she wrote. "I have no wish to minimize the distress experienced by many people with severe disfigurements, but to my mind, the current risk/benefit ratio ... is dubious at best."
Besides Louisville, such transplants are being considered by teams in Cleveland, England and France.