How young would you be if your head had a 20-year-old body?
RESEARCH If everything goes as planned, Italian neuroscientist Dr. Sergio Canavero hopes to perform the first human head transplant in about two years. Cost and complexity aside, this raises physiological, moral and ethical questions.  Is age determined by the mind or body? Will an older head connected to a younger body give one renewed strength, vigor and longer life? Could there be a rise in vanity transplants for those who wish to be taller or more shapely? Will successive transplants result in immortality? If the surgery is successful, there may be an increase in black-market transplants by dishonest surgeons for wealthy benefactors. Does this sound like a sci-fi movie?
With great fan fair, a team of 30 doctors in Spain successfully performed a full-face transplant in 2010. Since 2008, the United States has seen several landmark surgeries in face transplantation but a full-head transplant is more complex. [2,3] Instead of donor faces or heads, there would be donor bodies.
Amid controversy and acclaim, in the 1960s Dr. R.J. White performed animal head transplant experiments with marginal success. He has been credited with pioneering research in modern head trauma surgeries. Dr. White predicted that the 21st century would dawn the era of successful head/body transplants. Considering all the unimaginable technological advancements since Henry Ford weaned us off the horse and buggy a hundred years ago, it's difficult to doubt such medical predictions.
|Head Transplant: The Truly Disturbing Truly Real Story|
From Jim Fields on Vimeo.
Canavero explains that a human head transplant is possible if surgeons can successfully link the spinal cord to the head using procedures that are available today. Possible methods include fusing severed axons with molecules such as poly-ethylene glycol or chitosan. A team of 100 surgeons would need to overcome this obstacle within one hour of simultaneous surgical removal of donor and recipent heads. So surgical timing is a formidable challenge. Axon fusing techniques would provide hope for quadriplegic spinal injury patients even without total body transplantation.
If successful, about 200 bodies in cryonic suspension worldwide may be cracking a smile. Some cryobiologists predict that the first cryonic revival might occur in the fourth decade of this century. [4,5] Canavero may speed up the clock, though there may be some trial and error in the defrosting process.
Suppose all the medical obstacles are overcome. Lungs or other vital organs are shortening the life of you or a loved one. Would you consider a full-body transplant? If recommended by a physician as the best hope to remain A Bit More Healthy, what requests would you have for a donor body? Would you want to be taller, shorter, thinner or would you appreciate any healthy body? Do you believe that the 21st century will see the resurrection of cryonic corpses?
- Possibility of First Head Transplant Fraught With Ethical and Medical Dilemmas. medicalnewstoday.com
- Full face transplant 'a success'. news.bbc.co.uk
- Face transplant patients: Where are they now?. cnn.com
- Life on Ice: The World of Crazy Cryogenics. abcnews.go.com
- How Cryonics Work. science.howstuffworks.com
- Image by Kirsty Pargeter licensed from iStock Photo, retouched by author.