By Abrigul Lutfalieva

Face transplantation is an important recent development in reconstructive surgery for patients who have suffered the partial or whole loss of their face due to illness or injury. Recently, the Russian Health Ministry indicated that it will expand the list of transplantable body parts to enable face transplants.

In anticipation of this expansion, a group of doctors and scientists from St. Petersburg Medical University have been using corpses and anatomically correct silicon models to develop a technique for performing this kind of transplant. Until now, Russian legislation has precluded face transplants because the laws only permit one kind of tissue to be implemented at a time. Face transplants, however, require the implementation of many tissues; a complete face transplant includes a nose, tongue, and ears.

However, the promise of amended legislation will not solve all the problems associated with face transplants in Russia. Dmitri Davydov, a professor and a surgeon, believes Russia is not ready to begin performing these transplants: “The problem is much more serious,” he said. “There are several parts to it, including the juridical aspect, the agreement period, the rehabilitation.” These problems only compound the traditional problems associated with transplantation. A Levada Center survey indicates that about 50% of Russians are against donating their organs; the supply of organs doesn’t even come close to meeting demand. In addition, there are costs associated with organ transplants that the Russian healthcare system simply cannot absorb. For example, traditional immunosuppressant drugs, essential for preventing organ rejection, cost between $10,000 and $13,000 per month.

Exorbitant costs and a limited supply of organs have led Russian citizens to look elsewhere when in need of a transplant. Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has been focusing her attention on this complex issue and the Health Ministry has recently finished putting together a document called the Transplant Constitution. The bill seeks to regulate the organ donation process, make it easier for Russians to donate organs, and create a national database of donor information; the bill will likely go into effect on January 1, 2016.

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