Face Transplant Coverage Kicks Off Privacy Debate

By: JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The director of France’s organ donation agency said Wednesday she was shocked that newspapers abroad have identified the donor for the world’s first partial face transplant, saying anonymity is vital for donors’ families.

Britain’s Mail on Sunday printed the name of the donor and her hometown in northern France. Newspapers outside France also have published the recipient’s name.

“I find it extremely shocking, I find it absolutely scandalous,” Carine Camby, director-general of French Biomedicine Agency, told The Associated Press.

She stressed that anonymity in transplant cases is vital.

“For many families, it is important to be able to mourn in peace, not to be disturbed by the neighborhood or the press or possibly the family of the recipient, or the recipient himself,” she said.

Her government agency, which manages waiting lists of transplant patients and allocates organs, said in a separate statement it was worried that the principle of donor anonymity was under attack.

It said 11,500 people in France require transplants each year and “should be able to continue to count on the generosity of donors and of their families.”

Both donor and recipient in the face-transplant case were French women. The recipient — disfigured when her dog mauled her earlier this year — underwent the operation Nov. 27 in which doctors grafted a nose, chin, and lips from the donor onto her face.

Under French law, the donor and recipient cannot be fully identified by name. British and American newspapers have printed the name of the 38-year-old recipient, a divorced mother of two, though French media have limited themselves to just her first name, Isabelle, and the first initial of her surname.

Newspapers in Britain and the United States also reported after the operation that the donor died by hanging herself — a claim denied by her brother in the Mail on Sunday’s report. The newspaper quoted him as saying that his sister had been ill and that the suicide claims were “nonsense.”

He claimed that the family never gave permission for his sister’s facial features to be donated. Camby has insisted the family granted approval, and she stood by that statement Wednesday.

The claim that the family did not give permission was “totally false,” she said.

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