[guest post by Dana]
I thought it surely had to be a bit of internet fakery,
but apparently not and is according to Dr. Mike K. But as to the feasibility of the proposition, well, you be the judge.
Italian surgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group announced that he believes human head transplants could begin in two years. Positively Frankensteinian:
[He] wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.
The key, Canavero wrote, is extreme cooling of the bodies of the recipient and the donor and the reattachment of the donor head within the hour.
Surgeons would dissect tissues around the neck and link blood vessels with minute tubes. The spinal cords would be cut with an extra-sharp blade, making a “clean cut” that is essential to the surgery’s success and theoretically allowing the two spinal cords to fuse.
After the surgery, the patient would spend about a month in a medically-induced coma to let the body heal without risk of movement.
Canavero contends the patient would be able to feel his or her new face and speak in a natural voice — and could eventually be able to walk.
(Note: head transplants on animals have already been conducted.)
Canavero intends to announce the project this spring at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS). And, according to Canavero, he already has volunteers lined up. For the surgery. Oh. Come. On.
Anyway, all of this naturally begs the age-old question: Because it can be done, should it be done?
Aside from what is being discussed as the biggest hurdle of many hurdles – that of successfully being able to attach one spinal cord to another – there is the pesky issue of ethics. A trauma surgeon notes some viable concerns:
• Prior to attempting this feat in humans, we would have try it using small animals followed by monkeys. What ethics review board would approve such a thing? Would this not be considered animal cruelty?
• If the trials were approved and then proved successful, who then would be the first human guinea pig?
• What if the head survives the surgery but not the body? What if the body survives but not the head?
• Are either of those scenarios even possible?
• How would the person react to someone else’s body on his head when he woke up? The psychological trauma alone would be immeasurable.
• What if the head is rejected? Would they then try a second body transplant?
Aside from the immense and seemingly insurmountable issues with the surgery itself, this frankly seems so ghastly, surreal and wholly rife with ethical problems, that it’s hard to imagine it would ever be taken seriously, let alone happen. And yet, there are ghastly and unethical medical procedures being lawfully done on a regular basis without batting an eye, even as the ethics surrounding said procedures have successfully been squelched by
supporters lobbyists media government all parties involved.
And if this surgery is, or becomes, even a remote possibility some years out, then considering man’s base nature and insatiable quest for power and penchant for playing God, what about that inevitable slippery slope?
*I would love to hear what Patterico’s medical professionals make of all this.
UPDATE: Mike K. pooh-poohs head transplants as bunk. While I agree with him, I do think there is almost always an ethical question regarding advancements in medical sciences and how we respond to the real possibilities on the horizon.