December 2, 2005

French face transplant woman doing well: surgeons

LYON, France (Reuters) - French surgeons said on Friday they faced tough ethical questions when they performed the world's first partial face transplant, but decided to go ahead because it was the only way to help the patient.

They said the 38-year-old woman was doing well physically and psychologically after Sunday's operation in which she received a transplanted nose, lips and chin from a brain-dead donor after being savaged by a dog.

"The patient is doing well this morning," Jean-Michel Dubernard, one of the specialists who carried out the operation, told a news conference in the southeastern city of Lyon.

"There are many, many ethical problems," he said.

But he went on to justify the decision to carry out the operation.

"My philosophy, our philosophy, is that we are doctors and we have a patient with a very severe disfigurement related to a dog bite," he said in English.

"It was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to repair with classical techniques of surgery. As doctors, if we have the possibility to improve (the condition of) our patient, that's what we can do."

Although face transplants have been technically possible for several years, concerns about the psychological impact, consent and the long-term risk of drugs to prevent the immune system from rejecting the new face have prevented them.

In the operation in France's northern city of Amiens, the woman received transplanted tissue, muscles, arteries and veins.

Dubernard, a specialist at a hospital in Lyon who has also carried out hand transplants, conducted the operation with Bernard Devauchelle from the Amiens hospital.