The ability to reconstruct complex facial injuries is still a considerable challenge despite the development of microsurgical techniques. The reconstructive options for conditions such as panfacial burns are severely limited. The result after multiple surgical procedures in this group is often poor in terms of function and cosmesis. Facial transplantation provides a potential solution, but opinion is currently divided about the extent to which the potential benefits to the quality of life can be justified when weighed against the technical, psychological and immunological risks. This paper reviews the current status of the debate and argues that a rigorous research strategy is the only logical basis for countering the ethical objections to a procedure that offers considerable benefits over existing reconstructive options.