Head Transplants: the next medical feat?

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The Idea

Professor Sergio Canavero wants to be the first surgeon ever to perform a head transplant. He claims that this could happen within the next year and that there are many volunteers willing to participate. He claims that despite the risk, there are many interested participants and the surgery will most likely take place in the UK, Germany or France.

The Patient

Valery Spiridonov is a 31-year-old man with Werdnig-Hoffman’s (muscle-wasting disease) who is willing to have his head transplanted onto a different body.

How it would work

All in all, the transplant would require a team of 150 medical professionals and 36 hours to complete. The first step would require freezing the head and body to stop brain cells from dying. The trickiest part of the surgery will involve cutting the spinal cord. Canavero claims a special knife made of diamonds will be used because of its strength and precision. The head will then be removed and the spinal cord glued to the donor. The testing of the procedure will be done on brain-dead donors to see how they recover neuro-physiologically.

The Questions

While many medical experts around the world claim his theories are science fiction and a head transplant is not feasible, Canavero claims that the surgery will have a success rate of 90%. If it is possible to perform a head transplant, than there are many questions that I have. Firstly, how would someone cope with living in a completely new body? More importantly, would they be the same person or would they change? Many questions are also raised about who the donor and recipient would be and what the requirements are to participate. I think while an interesting idea, many ethical questions are raised by the idea of a head transplant.

More information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/37420905/the-surgeon-who-wants-to-perform-a-head-transplant-by-2017

2 responses to “Head Transplants: the next medical feat?

  1. Just starting off, the idea of a head transplant is very concerning. To me it seems like the real life version of Frankenstein. If we assume that this procedure proved to be successful, there are so many potential issues. The first issue that comes to mind is that of identity. Many parts that make up our identity is our physical body; what it looks like and what it allows for us to do. If one was to receive an entirely new body, I would believe that an individual would start questioning their identity. This questioning could cause mental and emotional trauma that can negatively impact the person’s sense of self. It could be possible that the trauma could lead to the ultimate rejection of the transplant.
    I know that there has been a successful arm transplant. The recipient had to undergo months of intensive therapy for any mental or emotional issues caused by receiving a new limb. One issue that caused concern was that the donor’s arm had a tattoo on it of the name of his wife. This was a visible marker that this arm was not the natural arm of the patient. In the case of a head transplant, there could be many things about the body (scars, tattoos, visual differences) that could trigger the questioning of identity. While it would be a cool advancement for science, I think it is going too far in trying to cheat death.

  2. Hi Katherine,
    I thought that this was an interesting topic, so thank you for writing about it. I think like you I had many questions as I was reading about the subject matter, but I wondered more about why the idea of a head transplant made me uneasy. So when I think of head transplants, I feel a little bit more apprehensive about them than I would if we were talking about transplants of other body parts. I imagine it’s because of all the unknowns in this medical procedure, but also because we are talking about a head being transplanted unto a preserved cadaver. With the confidence that Professor Canavero has in his procedure, I wonder how the acceptance of this medical practice will be affected if the test run were to be successful.
    With all technological/medical advancements, they pose many possible ethical and moral dilemmas. I think a head transplant is something that there would be a lot of. Which brings me to a quote from Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

    Thank you,

    Eugenia

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