Yesterday, 30-year-old Russian man Valery Spiridonov volunteered to become the first person in the world to undergo a complete head transplant. Literally his entire head. On a different body.
The operation will be carried out by Italian surgeon Dr Sergio Canavero, in what he expects to be a 36-hour procedure involving 150 doctors and nurses.
A Werdnig-Hoffmann disease sufferer with rapidly declining health, Spiridonov is willing to take a punt on this very experimental surgery and you can't really blame him, but while he is prepared for the possibility that the body will reject his head and he will die, his fate could be considerably worse than death.
"I would not wish this on anyone," said Dr Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons.
"I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."
The problem is, fusing a head with a separate body (including spinal cord, jugular vein etc) could result in a hitherto never experienced level and quality of insanity.
Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Centre, who described Dr Canavero as "nuts", believes that the bodies of head transplant patients "would end up being overwhelmed with different pathways and chemistry than they are used to and they’d go crazy."
A head transplant was performed on a monkey 45 years ago in 1970. It lived, but only for eight days, with the body rejecting the new head and the monkey being left unable to breathe and unable to move because the spinal cord of the head and body were not connected properly.
Dr Canavero hopes to complete the operation in 2017.
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