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Framing the face: Project to explore the ethics of face transplants launches

Posted on 21 October 2019

A University of York researcher is launching a project to investigate the emotional history and ethics behind face transplants.


AboutFace explores the emotional and cultural history of face transplants. Image credit: Lucy Burscough

How do you feel about your face? Who would you be without it? Would you donate your face or that of your loved one?

These are just some of the questions up for discussion on 25 October 2019, at the launch of AboutFace – a project led by cultural historian Dr Fay Bound Alberti, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow from the Department of History at the University of York.

Medically challenging

AboutFace explores the emotional and cultural history of face transplants, considering both the impact of facial difference in the age of the selfie, and the emergence of facial transplantation as a response to severe trauma.

Face transplants are complex and medically challenging. There have been fewer than 50 globally since the first was performed in 2005 and none in the UK to date.

The launch event, which is open to the public and free to attend, will host a panel discussion of the social, cultural, emotional and medical meanings of faces, facial transplants, and identity.

Dr Bound Alberti will be joined for the discussion by Consultant head, neck and facial surgeon Daniel Saleh; writer Louisa Young; artists Lucy Burscough and Clare Whistler; and James Partridge, founder of the charity Face Equality.

Emotions and identity

Dr Bound Alberti said: “Face transplants are ethically fraught - they transform the part of our body most associated with emotions, identity and social interaction.

“Media and public debate around face transplants raise questions about how society views ‘disfigurement’ and surgical intervention – especially in the age of the ‘selfie’.

“However, most discussions of face transplants focus on surgical issues, from new techniques to immunosuppressants. And their emotional meaning and effects, on individuals and their families, donor families, medical teams and society as a whole, have been largely neglected.”

AboutFace will help shape and inform public perceptions, policy interventions and medical practice on face transplants both nationally and internationally.

The AboutFace launch will take place at the Hospitium, Museum Gardens, York, on 25 October 2019 from 2.00pm – 7.00pm. Register for a free ticket here.

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