A face transplant completed at a Cleveland clinic may be a medical triumph, but, William Saletan wonders on Slate, does the social necessity outweigh the physical risk? Severe facial damage affected the woman’s physical functions, but surgeons also argue that “social functions” such as communication are equally essential. This logic creates a dangerous precedent because it means taking social humiliations more seriously than life.
Social suffering is real suffering, yet by turning to surgical solutions, we change the patient when we should be changing societal behaviors. The patient may have consented freely, but is a choice to escape humiliation really a free choice? “I hope her new face ends her suffering,” Saletan concludes. “I just don’t want to end up killing her—and calling that her choice—because we made her life hell.”