One doctor has an ambitious goal in mind: to perform the first human head transplant over the next 24 months. Dr. Sergio Canavero even has a human volunteer for the radical surgery he says is designed to “extend life,” according to a Guardian news report.
In a room packed to capacity with members of the press and medical peers at the Westin Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday, Dr. Canavero began his keynote presentation. He made it clear from the beginning that his goal at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons was to recruit willing and capable surgeons to assist him in transplanting a human head.
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) June 13, 2015
The neurosurgeon calls his initiative HEad Anatomosis VENture (or “Heaven”). As Guardian wrote, “[h]e spent most of the first half-hour firing off aphorism after aphorism,” some by classical and contemporary thinkers like Danish Philospher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard and British science fiction writer Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, to name a few.
“Today I’m here to give us all a vision. If Heaven is reckless, nature is crazier, and nature must be given pause when it comes to what it does to us all as creatures on this planet.”
A patient’s set to undergo the world’s first head transplant. Here’s what’s involved http://t.co/Ayr6kkRP5H
— Sky News Tonight (@SkyNewsTonight) June 12, 2015
Sources described the Italian doctor, of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, as someone passionate about his idea, despite the skepticism that has lingered for decades. To Canavero, the ability to carry out a human head transplant is possible, just as it was when the crew of the Apollo 11 spaceflight mission first set foot on the Moon. It only requires that critical thinkers and medical practitioners continue with their innate practice of tinkering and believing that anything is possible.
“We must go to the moon to test who we are, to test our skills, to test our confidence, to see what kind of men we are! We must do it to test America! We must do it to see if you are still Americans! When I grew up America was the top.”
The enterprising physician told the crowded room of attendees that he has financial backing of “American billionaires” and the return on investment is enormous, which will spearhead the development of even more promising medical breakthroughs.
“I came to you; I gladly accepted this invite to humbly come before you to make a case that this is possible. You of all people have a definite sense of self, not an illusion. What self is the patient? The new body, or the self that he suffers with?”
The human transplant volunteer is Valery Spiridonov. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a rare condition that is “characterized by degeneration of nerve cells (motor nuclei) within the lowest region of the brain (lower brainstem) and certain motor neurons in the spinal cord (anterior horn cells) leading to muscle weakness of the truncal, and extremity muscles initially, followed by chewing, swallowing and breathing difficulties.” There is no cure and is eventually fatal to the sufferer.
“I believe my body is just mechanics that I want to have removed.”
Spiridonov says that he has to hire others to help him with basic needs and mobility. There is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about being driven to “madness” and insanity.
Recently, a man with a rare cancer called leiomyosarcoma underwent the first successful skull-scalp transplant. Doctors thought he was an ideal patient because the tumor had destroyed a large portion of his head.
On the possibility of surgically transplanting a human head, some are concerned over the ethics of such a procedure. Oscar Tuazon, an Alexandria-based surgeon, weighed in on the controversial announcement.
“I don’t know. In humans, the main thing is the head! The body is just a framework or a shell. So it’s the head that’s important. Maybe, let’s say, if somebody is great, like Einstein, maybe you can preserve him.”
[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]