Sunday, May 22, 2016

Surgeons Perform Penis Transplant, Story Comments Go Wild

It's the nature of the Internet beast. Write "penis" in a headline and you're almost sure get more clicks than usual. Add "transplant," and curiosity will likely get the best of many people.

Last week, surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced that they had performed the world's third penis transplant, the first done in the U.S. According to the news reports I read, there had been two previous attempts elsewhere - one successful and one not. I have to admit, I admire the bravery of the patient, Thomas Manning, who allowed his team to go public with the news of the surgery, although I suspect that it was part of the deal when they offered to do it, picking up the costs at the same time.

Sure, it's easy to giggle or snicker when one thinks of a penis transplant, and people of a certain age may think of the Bobbitt case, where the angry wife decided to amputate her husband's penis. But in all seriousness, this could be a major breakthrough to men who are injured or who are affected by cancer that requires amputations.

Sure, a penis is not a required part of the body, like the heart, the liver, kidneys, lungs and so on. It's used to transport urine and semen - and urine can be directed from the bladder through other methods. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a vital role in life and in quality of life. Just as many women who have mastectomies go on to have reconstructive surgery, men may want/need that as well for their own psychological well-being. The difference is transplantation of a penis, with all that's involved, is a trickier and more intensive procedure - and probably considerably more expensive. In addition to the issue of obtaining the cadaver donations to be able to perform the surgery at all, another difference is a man who has a transplant will have to take antirejection drugs, while a woman who had breast reconstruction doesn't face that particular drug regimen, with its associated risks.

What is interesting about this whole thing though is the reaction of people to the news. Some feel it is a waste of time, while others applaud the research and learning that goes into it - after all, medicine and research don't live in a vacuum. Information gleaned from research in one area is often transferable to another. Some commenters make sick jokes, while others say that while this is all good, they don't want to read about a man's penis in the news. I wonder if they feel the same way about articles that discuss better ways for breast reconstruction (just wondering).

Finally, I have to admit, my eyebrows did raise a touch when I first heard the story. But the man had cancer. He survived it. Why would he not want to be as whole as possible again? Plans are for future transplants for men who have been injured in combat or who had traumatic car accidents.

For those who are saying that the surgeons and researchers should be looking at "more important" things, who decides what is more important? And, who is to say what they learn here can't be somehow used to help you one day for another health or medical problem?

There shouldn't be, in my opinion, a "it's either this or that" in research. There is room for so much of it. I wish Mr. Manning well, with smooth recovery and a happy, cancer-free life.

New York Times: Man Receives First Penis Transplant
CBS: Penis transplant glad to be a "complete" man