Looking Through Gary Gilmore's Eyelashes
During mid September 2005 a surgical team made an announcement that they were to become the first to carry out a human face transplant and it unleashed a whole raft of press comment about the morals of such a procedure.
Too many commentators have taken the weak journalistic option of trying to stir up outdated, backward and religious prejudices by suggesting that there will be a moral outcry. As usual this counters the brilliant scientific advancements heralded in these new procedures.
The additional twist this time is identity and the allegedly dubious grounds that taking someone's face will mean adopting their identity and perhaps personality. This is despite the surgeon's assurances that the face is shaped by the bones, not the skin.
However, this does not deter those who think that the procedures could lead to cosmetic demands.
My personal belief is that if it did so what? If someone is prepared to fund research through vanity then let them carry on.
And so what if it changes the way someone looks or raises questions about identity? What rule says that identity has to be fixed? If they bring out such a law I'll grow a beard. And so will my wife.
Taking the arguments about altering identity a little further I note that one interesting thought that hasn't yet been raised until now is the spectre that one day a celebrity may offer their face after their demise. Think about the consequences for a while.
Currently playing on some sub-standard channel on my Freeview box is a programme called 'I Want a Famous Face'. This is the latest in the current trend of titillating, voyeuristic cosmetic surgery programmes that follows desperate wannabes sadly seeking to look like a celebrity because their own self-esteem is too low.
A natural extension to this idea is having the actual face they so desire. And bidding wars could send the value of deceased celebrity faces sky high. After all their fiscal worth in life is elevated, why not in death?
Been There Done That
These concepts are not particularly new. 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' was a song was released following the real life transplantation of a dead killer's donated eyes.
This spawned a fictionalised Hollywood film called 'The Eyes of Laura Mars' suggesting that the transplanted eyes held secrets about how Laura met her demise.
'Face Off' was a grand Hollywood blockbuster featuring Nicholas Cage and John Travolta who as goodies and baddies respectively routinely swapped identities during the movie to maintain a high level of thriller element and not a small amount of confusion.
Even before that, in the grand old days when everyone was in black and white a film was released called 'The Hands Of Orlac' which featured a talented concert pianist who having lost his hands in an accident had a pair transplanted from a deceased killer. The twist this time was that the hands were more concerned with stabbing than tinkering with the ivories.
So what of the future?
I predict that this will become commonplace.
I'll further suggest that there will be routine face swapping. Maybe a business face for the day and a party face for the evening. Presently women change their hair colour, length and shape and tint their eyes with contact lenses so changing faces is a logical extension.
Maybe friends will have fun swapping faces to confuse their parents.
Of course, society will gradually learn to distrust external features and we will eventually be judged on who we are and not what we look like.
And me personally? I have never wanted to alter my face, my desire is technically easier but way more complex. I don't want to look like Brad Pitt, I want everyone to think that my look is as good as Brad's.
Oh, and I'm thinking about putting in a bid for Jennifer Aniston's face.
Not that I want to wear it - just sit on it.
Author: Vince Poynter
Version 5.110 1 May 2018
First Published: Version 2.02 in Sep 2005
The world's first partial face transplant with parts from a stranger was claimed to be carried out on Isabelle Dinoire in Sep 2005 who had her face mauled by her dog. The work was carried out by Dr Bernard Devauchelle, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Benoit Lengelé, a Belgian plastic surgeon, and Jean-Michel Dubernard in Amiens, France. The operation was successful but her immune system's response was difficult and she eventually died in 2016 following a long illness.
An earlier transplant was reported by The Guardian on a 9 year old Indian boy, Sandeep Kaur, who had his face ripped off by a thresher machine in 1994. His mother's quick reactions allowed reconstruction of his own face by Dr Abraham Thomas, one of India's top microsurgeons. This is recognised as the first face transplant. The Guardian reported that in 2004 Sandeep was training to be a nurse.
'I Want A Famous Face' is an American documentary reality TV programme first shown on MTV which originally ran between 2004 and 2005
Gary Gilmore was an American double murderer who was successfully prosecuted and eventually executed in Utah in 1977. Within hours two people had received transplants of his corneas
'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' by songwriter T.V. Smith is a single performed by punk band The Adverts produced in 1977
'The Eyes of Laura Mars' is a 1978 film written by John Carpenter and David Zelag Goodman
'Face Off' is a 1997 film written by Mike Webb and Michael Colleary
'The Hands of Orlac' is a 1924 film written by Maurice Renard
Jennifer Aniston is lovely