Ethical -- and often visceral -- objections to the surgery are fading in light of dramatic early successes that restored patient functioning.
There have been at least 17 facial transplants worldwide since the first was performed in 2005 for Frenchwoman Isabelle Dinoire, experts say. Three transplants have been done this year at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the most recent one in May for Charla Nash, a Connecticut woman mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009. The hospital's efforts are being supported by a $3.4 million Defense Dept. grant, with hopes that wounded veterans will benefit.
In the surgery's earliest days, critics argued that the face -- so central to how people perceive themselves and others -- was not fit for transplantation. Donor families might be disgusted to see the face of their loved one on someone else's body. Critics also worried that a highly visible failure could horrify the public and discourage organ donation.
More commonly, skeptics of the surgery argued that it was wrong to treat nonfatal medical problems with an intervention that would subject patients to the increased risks of infection, cancer and renal failure that come with the immunosuppressive regimen required to avoid rejection.