Vulnerability and the ethics of facial tissue transplantation

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 7 (2):173-185 (2010)


Two competing intuitions have dominated the debate over facial tissue transplantation. On one side are those who argue that relieving the suffering of those with severe facial disfigurement justifies the medical risks and possible loss of life associated with this experimental procedure. On the other are those who say that there is little evidence to show that such transplants would have longterm psychological benefits that couldn’t be achieved by other means and that without clear benefits, the risk is simply too great. Ethicists on both sides have called for more analysis of the link between the face and personal identity in order to get a better grasp on potential gains and losses. This paper responds to that call by looking at contemporary philosophical analyses of the relation between organ transplants and personal identity and between the human face, human dignity, and human vulnerability. It is argued that the face matters not because it is the unique marker of our identity, but because of its role in the intersubjective constitution of moral identity and human dignity.

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Diane Perpich
Clemson University

Citations of this work

What Does the Patient Say? Levinas and Medical Ethics.Lawrence Burns - 2017 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 42 (2):214-235.
Faces Matter.Zil Goldstein, Jess Ting & Rosamond Rhodes - 2018 - American Journal of Bioethics 18 (12):10-12.

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