The World’s First Face Transplant is an episode of the BBC science documentary series Horizon. It focuses on the circumstances surrounding the transplant of the lower part of a face for Isabelle Dinoire after she was mauled by her dog.
In terms of discussion starters, the best material available at the moment is actually on the BBC website for the episode. A series of short interviews with surgeons (Nick Parkhouse – anti, Peter Butler – pro) and facially-disfigured individuals (James Partridge – anti, Simon Weston – pro, Sundeep Hunjan – pro) nicely set out some of the principle arguments for and against face transplantation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the programme itself contains several sequences of surgery being performed and also has images of Isabelle in the period between the attack and before the operation. In consequence, it may be inappropriate to show the whole episode to some groups of students.
A section starting at 35:02 and running to 35:43 has a montage of newspaper headlines and TV news reports about the operation. This helpfully finishes with the BBC anchorman George Alagiah stating that this “… raised ethical questions”. This could be used as an intro to start discussion about what those issues might be. Other clips offer potential answers. In particular, some or all of a section running from 23:40 to 29:00 includes Nick Parkhouse talking about the lifelong commitment to immunosuppressive drugs and the side effects such as raised cancer risk and life shortening. This is followed by Simon Weston saying it might not be his choice, but people ought to be given the right to have a transplant if they want. Mention is also made of the psychological issues – of coping with a life of disfigurement v coping with looking in the mirror and seeing someone ‘not you’ looking back.
The need for a donor to match the recipient in terms of age, gender, skin colour, blood group and the requirement to obtain permission from the donor’s family are all brought up at different points in the programme, but not in one user-friendly clip. Comparison is made to the experience of Clint Hallam, who in 1998 was the first recipient of a hand transplant but struggled to follow the necessary regime of immunosuppressant drugs and eventually had the hand removed.
This episode was first transmitted 17th October 2006 (TRILT code: 005CBF55)