Human hand transplantation became a medical reality at the turn of the 21st century. Often hailed by media and the general public as miraculous, these life-changing surgeries are also highly controversial. Many doctors, ethicists, and medical professionals feel the benefits of having a hand transplant do not outweigh the risks of the immunosuppressive drugs required to keep the complex foreign tissues alive on the bodies of chronically disabled yet otherwise healthy people. Patients’ reactions to having the operation, to the drugs, to the physical therapy, and to the psychological consequences of wearing the hand of a dead person range from grateful acceptance to disgust and requested reamputation. This thesis explores the struggles and triumphs of human hand transplants through the stories of several patients and doctors. The rise of hand transplantation as a field, including the ongoing controversy surrounding the first successful human hand transplant, is also related as insight into how doctors and patients in innovative medicine make decisions, and where hand transplantation stands as a technology to benefit both medicine and scientific research.
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