The first successful face transplant was recently performed in France. A woman had lost her nose, lips, and chin after being mauled by her dog. The injuries left her grotesquely deformed, making it virtually impossible for her interact normally with others. Muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and other tissues were transplanted from a "brain dead" donor in order to fashion a "hybrid" face that neither resembled the donor nor the recipient’s original face.
This surgery marked a new milestone in transplantation, raising new questions to the usual list of ethical issues involved in transplantation. Unlike, kidney, liver, lung, or other vital organ transplants, which are life-saving procedures, the recent historic surgery brings transplantation into the realm of plastic surgery.
From a Jewish perspective, the face transplant raises two sets of questions. There are the technical questions regarding transplant and a more fundamental set regarding the approach of Judaism to vanity and plastic surgery.
Let us leave aside the issues of cadaveric transplantation and brain death involved in the recent face transplant case for another day and ask the more basic question of how far an individual may go to improve his/her appearance? Clearly the face transplant patient’s surgery was not prompted by vanity, but we must still ask if even routine plastic/cosmetic surgery is permitted at all? What might the possible concerns be that arise for one contemplating plastic surgery?