A human head transplant... The first thing you think of is Frankenstein and some absurd science fiction fairy tale. But, it's rapidly becoming more fact than fiction. Italian Scientist Sergio Canavero predicts we're only 2 years away from the first successful human head transplant. Infact, head transplants have been attempted for a long time.
In the 1950's, Russian scientist Vladimir Demikhov attempted head transplants on dogs, but the dogs quickly died after the procedure. Nearly 20 years later, American neurosurgeon Robert White conducted a successful head transplant by moving the head of one monkey to the body of another. The monkey lived for several days, but because Dr. White couldn't connect the two spinal cords, the monkey eventually died. But, that was then…
"Tomorrow is today," Canavero said in an interview. "What was impossible can happen now."
For a head to be successfully transplanted it would have to be cooled to between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the two heads must be cut at exactly the same time and in the same operating room. Surgeons then have one hour to connect the head to the donor body, which is also cooled and placed under cardiac arrest. Canaveros technique to achieve this is known as the GEMINI procedure. Once the head is reconnected, the heart of the donor body can be re-started, and surgeons can proceed to the re-connections of other vital systems, including the spinal cord.
This all sounds great, but what are the ethics behind this?
Though the surgery is primarily intended for people with severe medical conditions, Canavero says it could open the door to a moral dilemma. A head transplant could provide a possible cure for those with conditions that leave the brain functioning while affecting the rest of the body, like progressive muscular dystrophies, or even cancer.
But people who simply want to cheat death could hypothetically undergo the surgery to acquire a younger body, he says.
It would be very difficult to regulate this procedure and it seems like the beginning of a new way of life. Are we headed for a reality like the movie "In Time" where the rich live forever and the poor struggle to live another day? Will we have to regulate death by raising taxes on the poor in an effort to control an expanding population. Only time will tell, but for the first time, it's actually a real possibility…