J Med Ethics 33:449-453 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.017475
  • General ethics

Facial allograft transplantation, personal identity and subjectivity

  1. J S Swindell
  1. Correspondence to:
 J S Swindell
 Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University, 503 S Kedzie Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA; sproulsw{at}
  • Received 17 May 2006
  • Accepted 30 August 2006
  • Revised 21 August 2006


An analysis of the identity issues involved in facial allograft transplantation is provided in this paper. The identity issues involved in organ transplantation in general, under both theoretical accounts of personal identity and subjective accounts provided by organ recipients, are examined. It is argued that the identity issues involved in facial allograft transplantation are similar to those involved in organ transplantation in general, but much stronger because the face is so closely linked with personal identity. Recipients of facial allograft transplantation have the potential to feel that their identity is a mix between their own and the donor’s, and the donor’s family is potentially likely to feel that their loved one “lives on”. It is also argued that facial allograft transplantation allows the recipients to regain an identity, because they can now be seen in the social world. Moreover, they may regain expressivity, allowing for them to be seen even more by others, and to regain an identity to an even greater extent. Informing both recipients and donors about the role that identity plays in facial allograft transplantation could enhance the consent process for facial allograft transplantation and donation.


  • Competing interests: None.