Though it sounds like something from a science fiction novel, full body transplants may be a real world possibility in as little as two years. In fact, one doctor has already successfully transplanted the head of a monkey onto a different body. A different scientist was also able to create a two-headed dog fusing the head of a puppy to a larger dog. Now an Italian surgeon wants to take these experiments to the next level and offer full body transplants to humans who have suffered severe body trauma, such as wounded warriors. According to the surgeon, if funding becomes available, full body transplants could be possible in just two years.
New Scientist reports on Italian scientist Sergio Canavero’s plan to launch the world’s first attempt of a full body transplant at a U.S. surgical conference this year. Canavero works for the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group and has come up with a process he is calling “Gemini” that focuses on a spinal fusion protocol that could be used to transplant a “living” human head onto a donor body. The process would be designed to extend or improve the lives of individual’s suffering from nerve or muscle diseases or even terminal cancers. The process would require that the human head to be removed, yet kept alive, until it could be reattached to the donor body.
It may sound impossible; however, scientists of decades past have successfully transplanted both monkey and dog heads onto new bodies. Though the subjects in the monkey and dog transplants did not live beyond a few days, the fact that they lived at all was somewhat startling. However, the transplants were deemed “barbaric” so they were not continued. Canavero says that with advances in technology and surgical procedures, we now have all the right tools to successfully transplant the body without rejection and death. However, Canavero needs funding and a country that will allow the procedures to be performed.
The BBC points out that many countries may be hesitant to allow such controversial surgery and experiments to take place on their soil. Some even question the feasibility of such a surgery. Scientists who are opposed to the full body transplant call the procedure “grotesque” and bring up moral objection to experimenting in such a way on the human body. Others claim there are too many risks. Dr Stephen Rose, director of brain and behavioral research at the Open University, calls the whole idea “mad.”
“This is medical technology run completely mad and out of all proportion to what’s needed. It’s entirely misleading to suggest that a head transplant or a brain transplant is actually really still connected in anything except in terms of blood stream to the body to which it has been transplanted.”
Rose also brings up the question of “who” the person would really be after the transplant. Does a person’s entire being exist just in their head?
“Your person is largely embodied but not entirely in your brain.”
However, Professor Robert White, the doctor responsible for the monkey head transplant, says that there are real benefits to the possibility of full body transplants that should be researched.
“People are dying today who, if they had body transplants, in the spinal injury community would remain alive.”
Though scientists such as Rose say the head would simply be connected to a blood stream and remain “alive” without any nervous system capabilities, Canavero claims this is simply not true as the Gemini spinal fusion protocol would be used to re-attach the head to the spine and nervous system. If the full body transplant went as planned, the living head would be able to control the new donor body completely.
For those interesting in learning more about Professor White and his monkey head transplant, watch the video interview below.
Note: Some images in the video may be disturbing to some viewers.
What do you think of Sergio Canavero’s plan to attempt a full body transplant, or head transplant as some are calling it? Is the procedure ethical, or are there other considerations that should be discussed about the identity of the individual after the transplant?