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Face Transplants Good: Our Reactions Against People With Disfigurements, Not Good

Posted May 06 2009 1:06pm
I guess face transplants--wherein a patient receives the "face" of a cadaver--are news because they are new. But I don't see why anyone would oppose them--at least as a reconstructive procedure. Case in point: The first American woman to receive this procedure after her face was literally blown away by a shotgun blast, has stepped forward to explain what it has meant to her. From the story:

When Connie Culp heard a little kid call her a monster because of the shotgun blast that left her face horribly disfigured, she pulled out her driver's license to show the child what she used to look like. Years later, as the nation's first face transplant recipient, she's stepped forward to show the rest of the world what she looks like now.

Her expressions are still a bit wooden, but she can talk, smile, smell and taste her food again. Her speech is at times a little tough to understand. Her face is bloated and squarish. Her skin droops in big folds that doctors plan to pare away as her circulation improves and her nerves grow, animating her new muscles.

But Culp had nothing but praise for those who made her new face possible. "I guess I'm the one you came to see today," the 46-year-old Ohio woman said at a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic, where the groundbreaking operation was performed. But "I think it's more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person's face."
This is medicine at its best and we should all applaud the beneficence done here and applaud Culp for her courage and fortitude.

Now, this is a dangerous procedure. That means it should only be done in catastrophic circumstances. But you watch, sooner or later someone will want one as an enhancement. When and if that happens, the doctors should refuse.

But here's the question that really has me wondering: Why do we react so viscerally against people who are badly disfigured? The child's cruelty in the story was innocent, but it comes from somewhere within us. And I well remember the astonishingly cruel social fascism directed against my high school's "ugliest" girls. Even adults--myself included--sometimes need to discipline ourselves not to give into what seems a reflex revulsion when we come upon someone who is catastrophically disfigured. This phenomenon is real. What I don't understand is where it comes from, and why.
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