Send to

Choose Destination
Med Health Care Philos. 2019 Sep;22(3):407-425. doi: 10.1007/s11019-018-09881-4.

Narrative methods for assessing "quality of life" in hand transplantation: five case studies with bioethical commentary.

Author information

University of Pittsburgh, 4200 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260, USA.
, 5440 5th Avenue #11, Pittsburgh, PA, 15232, USA.
University of Pittsburgh, 4200 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260, USA.


Despite having paved the way for face, womb and penis transplants, hand transplantation today remains a small hybrid of reconstructive microsurgery and transplant immunology. An exceptionally limited patient population internationally (N < 200) complicates medical researchers' efforts to parse outcomes "objectively." Presumed functional and psychosocial benefits of gaining a transplant hand must be weighed in both patient decisions and bioethical discussions against the difficulty of adhering to post-transplant medications, the physical demands of hand transplant recovery on the patient, and the serious long-term health risks of immunosuppressant drugs. This paper relates five narratives of hand transplantation drawn from an oral history project to show how narrative methods can and should inform ethical evaluations and the clinical process of hand transplantation. The interviews with patients and their partners analyzed here lead us to suggest that qualitative accounts of patient experiences should be used to complement clinical case studies reported in medical journals and to help develop instruments to assess outcomes more systematically.


Caregiver burden; Disability; Hand transplantation; Informed consent; Person-centered medicine; Qualitative methods; Reconstructive surgery; Research ethics; Vascularized composite allotransplantation


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Springer
Loading ...
Support Center