The Ethics of Hand Transplantation: A Systematic Review

Carisa Miller Cooney, Charalampos Siotos, Jeffrey W. Aston, Ricardo J. Bello, Stella M. Seal, Damon Cooney, Jaimie T Shores, Gerald Brandacher, W P Andrew Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose: We conducted a systematic review to document ethical concerns regarding human upper extremity (UE) allotransplantation and how these concerns have changed over time. Methods: We performed a systematic review of 5 databases to find manuscripts addressing ethical concerns related to UE allotransplantation. Inclusion criteria were papers that were on the topic of UE allotransplantation, and related ethical concerns, written in English. We extracted and categorized ethical themes under the 4 principles of bioethics: Autonomy, Beneficence, Nonmaleficence, and Justice. We assessed theme frequency by publication year using Joinpoint regression, analyzing temporal trends, and estimating annual percent change. Results: We identified 474 citations; 49 articles were included in the final analysis. Publication years were 1998 to 2015 (mean, 3 publications/y; range, 0-7 publications/y). Nonmaleficence was most often addressed (46 of 49 papers; 94%) followed by autonomy (36 of 49; 74%), beneficence (35 of 49; 71%), and justice (31 of 49; 63%). Of the 14 most common themes, only "Need for More Research/Data" (nonmaleficence) demonstrated a significant increase from 1998 to 2002. Conclusions: Upper extremity transplantation is an appealing reconstructive option for patients and physicians. Its life-enhancing (vs life-saving) nature and requirement for long-term immunosuppression have generated much ethical debate. Availability of human data has influenced ethical concerns over time. Our results indicate that discussion of ethical issues in the literature increased following publication of UE transplants and outcomes as well as after meetings of national societies and policy decisions by regulatory agencies. Clinical relevance: Because UE transplantation is not a life-saving procedure, much ethical debate has accompanied its evolution. It is important for UE surgeons considering referring patients for evaluation to be aware of this discussion to fully educate patients and help them make informed treatment decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
StateAccepted/In press - 2017


  • Composite tissue allotransplantation
  • Ethics
  • Hand transplantation
  • Upper extremity allotransplantation
  • VCA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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