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|Face transplant surgery, performed last week in Lyon by a group of surgeons, led by Prof. Dubernard, raises countless questions of anthropological nature. For western societies, face is crystallization of personality self-sentiment. Face expresses absolute individuality and at the same time, demonstrates belongingness of human being to one or the other group. No other part of the body can indicate the uniqueness of an individual and testify about his social connections. A person is known, recognized and loved by his face. Alongside with gender, face is most powerful self-feeling such as personality.
Painful experiences, connected with changes in features, remind us that the person lives not only in the physical body. If it was so, no facial trauma, if it does not carry functional nature, would not have disturbed the person to lead a comfortable life further as if nothing has occurred. Primarily, person lives in imaginary body, showered with senses and values with which the person perceives the world and he himself becomes a part of the world. Disfigurement is fraught with harsh severance of the union - always in some or the other difficult level, but permanent - between actual body and its appearance, which has developed in the individual.
For a while or forever, but the disfigured person feels "suspended" of “I”, symbolic loss of the essence and only through huge efforts of will it is possible overcome this feeling. He starts feeling that his individuality “slipping away” from him at each sight of himself in a mirror or at the looks of strangers. Many people feel themselves as social outcasts in this world and grieve about themselves and continue to live. Disfiguration is symbolic loss.
Ability to endure this ordeal and again enjoy the life in complete sense depends on personal experience of the person, on his social status and cultural level, on his age, qualities and on his surroundings. But sometimes, he experiences personality loss, sudden loss of everything, which was his earlier and this is an irreparable loss. Disfiguration is not an illness from which it is possible to recover and not a wound to leave only a scar upon healing. It is equivalent to deformity even though an individual does not lose parts of the body but only the features change. Disfiguration gives only single option: Either to reconcile with that has happened or undergo painful surgeries. Face loss is a metaphor, signifying death.
In psychological and social proposition, face loss indicates loss of his place in the world for an individual. Will the person can cope up with it or not depends on his deep inner resources. Looking at disfiguration is unavoidable. Worse of all, it reflects social detriment of an individual, which he cannot hide from disfigurement, cannot hide it beneath a mask, cannot pretend with whom, he once was associated. It is visible to everyone, calls for curious looks of passers-by and embarrassment in interlocutors at first sight.
From this point of view, face transplant is above all, surgery of feeling. Surgery is performed to return back taste of life to patient. Important part of the body is amputated, on which the patient builds his connection with world and suffers in double meaning of this word- from inability to look at self and recognize himself in new and terrible face. Operation indicates symbolic return back to the world.
But face transplant, apart from other things, means transplant of foreign individuality. For human consciousness, it is equivalent to earthquake. Having a face of other person – means agreeing on not to recognize self and lose an opportunity to look into a mirror so as to find other person instead of himself.
Of course, discussion is not about duplicating the donor’s face – facial tissues are transplanted on bones and cartilages of recipient. But, after the surgery, patient finds completely not his original face and cannot avoid the shock he gets from the impression. Feeling of “Afflicted” & “De-personified” risk element is rather high in people with fragile psyche and who so wishes to get operated do not consider all the pros and cons.
Transplant of organs or tissues is not an easy experience for the patients: This is a huge shock, which remains for a long long-time. In spite of strict medical monitoring to avoid infections and graft rejection, often patient views the received organ as “venenate” gift.
Contrary to mechanistic view on human body, it is insufficient to transplant one part of a person in other person so as to treat the ailment since such a surgical intervention causes changes in personal feelings of the patient. Receiving a donation requires reciprocity, guaranteeing the preservation of dignity in both the recipient and donor. If you are receiving something, then you should be in a position to give something back in exchange. Transplantation of organs and tissues raises the issue about sacrifice, about symbolic price to purchase sounder health and in present case for the restoration of face – more valuable, socially acceptable and if possible more similar to original inherent face. These days, it is possible to find patients, ready to risk everything, relying on “Divine trade” as if their lives are immaterial without face.
Since the life of disfigured person is a never-ending agony, we need to understand that option of going-in for surgery has a reason, even though cost of the operation can be too high. In spite of strict necessity to take daily drugs, avoiding the graft rejection and apart from that the “restored” face shall not be completely identical to earlier original face and also it is important to be aware of the consequences of such an operation for feeling as an individual.||