Sergio Canavero, an Italian surgeon and neuroscientist, has proposed that his team will be ready to transplant the head of a 30 year-old man with muscular dystrophy onto another body by 2017. Sergio intends to use this process to better the lives of only those who have no other option left (such as those with muscular dystrophy), and has no intention of using this method for cosmetic purposes.
Helen Thompson from New Scientist summarized the process: the body would first be cooled down to help the cells live longer without oxygen and then the head would be severed. After connecting the major blood vessels, the new head would be fused to the spinal cord of the other body; a solution containing polyethylene glycol would be used which would help mesh the two parts together. A coma would be induced for about a month to allow the cell growth to continue undisturbed, and electrodes would be implanted to help stimulate nerve growth. Anti-rejection drugs would also be given to ensure a successful transplant.
Canavero has asked the help of Ren Xiaoping, a surgeon from China who has already done roughly 1000 head transplants on mice. Although the mice did not survive for more than a few minutes, Xiaoping will soon be moving on to operating on primates and told The Wall Street Journal that he hopes they will live “for at least a little while”.
Above: Dr. Ren Xiaoping (left), and Dr. Sergio Canavero (right).
Personally, I think all of this is nuts. I understand the benefit to those receiving the transplant that truly are in need of it however I cannot accept that as justification for the implications of such a procedure.
First off, there is no guarantee that this procedure will work. However assuming the operation proceeds without major complications, what is there to stop this from eventually being performed for cosmetic purposes? Of course there are regulations in place that would not allow bodies to be donated for solely cosmetic purposes, but what is there stopping the black market from simply creating a new niche for head transplants?
Another point to consider is if the donation of an entire body for the benefit of one individual is fair. The wait time for transplants for different organs varies from five years for a kidney to four months for a heart. One organ donor can help provide life for up to eight people and help improve the lives of another 50 people! Is it really fair to use the entire body for the benefit of one person versus potentially benefiting up to 58 people?
Personally, I don’t believe I would agree with the body of a deceased family member or friend being used for a head transplant. At the same time however, if a friend or family member was in a position where a head transplant might benefit them, I might be forced to reconsider.
Below is a news clip from RT covering the topic:
Let me know where you guys stand on this issue, in the comments below!