So there’s this Italian neurosurgeon, Sergio Canavero, whose radical experiments and ambitions have led people to dub him “Dr. Frankenstein”.
Human head transplants.
Dr. Canavero believes that he can transfer the head of someone with say, muscular dystrophy, onto a healthy and undamaged donor body.
The donor body and the head to be attached are cooled down to 12-15˚C to make sure that the cells last longer than a few minutes without oxygen. Then the tissue around the neck is cut, with the major blood vessels linked with tiny tubes, and the spinal cord on each body is severed cleanly with an extremely sharp blade. At this point, the head is ready to be moved, and the two ends of the spinal cord are fused using a chemical called polyethylene glycol, which encourages the cells to mesh. After the muscles and blood supply are successfully connected, the patient is kept in a coma for a month to limit movement of the newly fused neck, while electrodes stimulate the spinal cord to strengthen its new connections.
The whole procedure costs just over 12 million.
Canavero hasn’t actually successfully done this yet. His previous experiments were things like taking a head of a rat and attaching it to another rat…thus making a two-headed rat. He performed this experiment many times with the rat never surviving longer than thirty-six hours. Despite this 100% mortality rate, Canavero said he felt his experiments were a success because his only goal was to avoid major blood loss.
Apparently, it wasn’t to avoid the death of his subjects.
Canavero also performed a head transplant on a monkey several times but the majority of the time the body rejected the head and the subject died within a few days. Canavero claimed to have been successful with one monkey, but for ethical reasons it was euthanized less than two days after the procedure.
I really wish I could find out what those ethical reasons were but they seem to remain unknown.
I’ve been reading articles about Dr. Frankenstein for years because I find the whole subject just so absolutely fascinating.
And I’ve especially been keeping my eye on him lately because he said he was ready to perform his first procedure on a human this coming December. He found a willing candidate in a Russian computer programmer, Valery Spiridonov, who has Werdnig-Hoffman, a spinal atrophy disease.
But recently, for unclear reasons, the Italian neurosurgeon decided he would no longer perform the surgery on Spiridonov but use an, as yet unchosen, Chinese citizen for the procedure. He claims it’s only because the surgery is set to be done in China so it’s just easier to use a Chinese citizen.
I don’t really buy this. If you’re set to perform the first ever $12 million human-head transplant, is flying the patient to the country where the procedure will happen really such a big deal?
I think something weird is going on…I mean, on top of transplanting a head.
Spiridonov says that not being the test subject for this experiment has taken a huge weight off his chest.
Really?! You mean you’re relieved to not be having your head severed from your body and grafted onto a stranger’s body?
Ya don’t say.
Spiridinov told reporters that working with Canavero for the last two years has given him notoriety and enabled him to work on things that are possibly a more realistic way for him to improve his quality of life…like inventing an intelligent wheelchair and the world’s first ever robotic aide.
I think Dr. Canavero has an over-inflated God-complex and is maybe just a little bit off his rocker. And I know I’ve never faced death, never had to feel the way someone who has spent their entire life in a wheelchair must feel, but I do believe there is a point where you have to accept what you were given in life.
If a human head transplant is the only way you can lead a “normal” and ambulatory life, then maybe you weren’t meant to have that kind of life.
There’s that kid, Zion Harvey, the world’s youngest double-hand transplant recipient who can now successfully use his hands just like any other kid can, from tying his own shoes to swinging a baseball bat. But Zion’s body has tried to reject the hands many times, with the rejection episodes putting him in the hospital each time, and he has to stay on an extremely regimented and very high dosage of immunosuppression drugs, most likely for the rest of his life.
How much worse would it be with a head than with hands?
And what about one’s identity? Would you really remain the person you are just because you have the same brain? How much of our identity is tied to our bodies?
I honestly don’t think that I would be able to hold on to my sense of self if I one day had a different body. But again, I have never had to experience living inside a completely broken body. Maybe I would feel different if I were a quadriplegic.
I don’t know. There’s so much to think about with this topic.
I find it so darn fascinating.
All I know is I’m keeping my eye on Dr. Frankenstein.
Gotta work on my resume now. *sigh*