An ambitious Italian surgeon, Sergio Canavero, had previously announced that the first human head transplant would be possible by 2017 – the surgery would entail attaching a human head onto the body of another person. Recently, a volunteer, Valery Spiridonov, is said to have enlisted his participation to go through the surgery. However, according to expert opinion, the man would be in for something “worse than death”.
Swapping heads: HEAVEN
The concept of using surgery to allow people with degenerated muscles and nerves, and patients affected by cancer to live longer was debated by Canavero back in 2013. The surgeon had then spoken of his plan to have a 36-hour procedure that would be required to do so. In his explanation, he mentioned the fusion of two spinal cords so that the new head is not rejected by the recipient body. He also added that similar experiments were done on dogs and monkeys who ultimately lived for a few days.
“I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible,”Canavero said to New Scientist.
Once the new head is on the body, the ends of the spinal cords would be made to glue together by way of a chemical that would trigger the connection between the fat present in cell membranes. Muscles and blood vessels would then be sewed together. For some time, the patient will be kept in the comatose state with electrodes stimulating his body.
The procedure has been named HEAVEN, standing for head anastomosis venture.
Heaven or hell?
While this would sound gross to most of us, 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov who is from Russia does not seem to be horrified. Perhaps, he deems the rare genetic disease he suffers from –Werdnig-Hoffman muscle wasting disease – to be more of a predicament. He has professed his wish to have a new body before he dies.
In an interview to Daily Mail, he explained his feelings and motivation:
“Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. But it is not just very scary, but also very interesting. You have to understand that I don’t really have many choices… If I don’t try this chance my fate will be very sad. With every year my state is getting worse.”
Does Spiridonov realise fully what he is bringing unto himself? Expert opinion believes it is a very bad idea, to say the least.
For instance, Hunt Batjer from the American Association for Neurological Surgeons affirmed that the spinal cord would pose a great problem.
“I would not wish this on anyone,” Batjer told CNN. “I would not allow anyone to do it to me, there are a lot of things worse than death.”
According to him, the inability to move and breathe is worse than death.
Batjer might have been somewhat lenient when commenting on the project of Canavero, but Arthur Caplan of New York University has downright called the latter “nuts”.
“Their bodies would end up being overwhelmed with different pathways and chemistry than they are used to and they’d go crazy,” he told CNN.
“It’s not like you can unscrew your head and put it on someone else.”
Canavero, however, pays no heed to the words of caution directed at him so far.