updated 7/30/2007 10:56:12 AM ET 2007-07-30T14:56:12

Brigham and Women's Hospital has given a surgical team permission to perform partial face transplants to certain disfigured patients, a newspaper reported.

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Brigham and Women's is the second U.S. hospital to make public its plans to offer the rare medical procedure, The Boston Globe reported. The first hospital was the Cleveland Clinic.

To date, only three partial face transplants have been announced worldwide. Two were performed in France, and one in China.

Critics argue that it's unethical to expose patients to the risks of a transplant for a non-lifesaving procedure. The newspaper reported that Brigham and Women's would sanction transplants only for patients already taking immunosuppressant drugs because that would reducee the risk of tissue rejection and infection.

Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who is associate director of the hospital's burn unit, said he's motivated in part by the "helplessness I feel when I have a very difficult case." He said he has seen four patients in recent years who might qualify.

Isabelle Dinoire received the world's first partial face transplant. Dinoire was severely disfigured in May 2005 by her pet Labrador. In November 2005, surgeons grafted the lips, nose and chin of a brain-dead woman onto her face.

Dinoire's immune system nearly rejected the transplant twice, but she was given immunosuppressants that helped overcome the threat.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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