A historic overview including the European, American, Asian, and African continents is given on attitudes toward and the handling of humans with congenital malformations in ancient cultures and on pertinent customs in some prehistoric peoples. Figures of early works of art showing malformed individuals are presented testifying to this worldwide and timeless problem of humankind. In parallel, analogous patient photographs from our hospital before and after reconstructive surgery are shown. Philosophies of ancient Greece, Rome, and China on the subject of malformed infants essentially did not differ from the known attitudes of the less developed tribes in Europe and pre-Columbian America, although the means of elimination of unwanted offspring were rather passive (exposure) than active (manual killing). A radical change in attitudes and practices occurred with the spread of the Christian religion and its political installment in Europe: The care for the underprivileged including the malformed ones was considered a Christian duty to be performed with compassion and love. In our century, the clocks have been and apparently are turned back again. Atheistic and Darwinian influences, political atheism, and the belief in “higher ethics” issued by “superman” have led to a relapse into barbarism, also within the medical system. We, as craniofacial surgeons, are privileged to have the means to turn the clocks forward again by rehabilitating the physically most underprivileged: those with conspicuous craniofacial malformations. The necessary techniques exist and are applied, as the figures of patients from our hospital demonstrate, but the will and the emotional strength for their consequent application require more than our hands.
© 1995 Mutaz B. Habal, MD