Coming Soon: A Face Transplant Registry



rexusa_1840697aPhoto: Cultura/REX USA.
Ever seen the 1997 film Face/Off, starring John Travolta and Nic Cage? In case you haven't been fortunate enough to catch this classic, the plot revolves around surgical face transplantation. FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) obtains a new face (specifically, that of Castor Troy, played by Cage) in order to get some crucial info from Troy's brother. Unfortunately for him, Troy's one step ahead — he has already gotten a new face, one which looks remarkably like Archer's original. Oopsie!

Obviously, the world has come a long way since the heyday of Nicolas Cage, and face transplants (and hand transplants) are now entirely possible, if still very rare. And, now, as it turns out, the future as imagined in Face/Off might be here sooner rather than later. The U.S. government is now taking steps toward concrete regulations for face- and hand-transplant procedures, laying the groundwork for individuals to grant their own consent to donate their faces and hands to transplant candidates.

In the past, these incredibly complex surgeries have been planned by individual hospitals on a case-by-case basis. Face and hand donations have to be solicited from the potential donor's next of kin, and the process of deciding which donors may or may not be a match for a transplant patient is inconsistent at best. Under the new plan, these organs would be handled by the United Network of Organ Sharing, the government agency that regulates the donation of traditionally transplanted organs, such as lungs, livers, and hearts. Such a move could streamline the process, while moving these procedures into the mainstream.

Officials say the challenge now is one of public perception. Those who would agree to donating a kidney or a liver may not be too excited about giving up their hands or face. Just how the consent process will change to make sure potential donors are aware of the new regulations remains to be seen. But, one thing is certain: The future of face transplants is here, and we're not totally sure how to feel about it. (USA Today/The Verge)