‘Doctors Frankenstein?’ You Tell Us

Dr Sergio Canavero“We are one step closer to extend life indefinitely. When I will be able to give a new body to an 80-year-old they could live for other 40 years.” says an Italian surgeon.

In Italy, a neurosurgeon named Doctor Sergio Canavero is laying the groundwork to perform what will be the first human head transplant. If all goes well, he will sever the head of a Russian scientist, who is terminally ill, and stitch it onto an entirely new body.

It appears that Valery Spiridonov, age 31, a computer expert, has a particularly ugly form of spinal muscular atrophy called Werdnig-Hoffman. It is rare and it is not curable And because the disease is certain to kill him within 5 years, Spiridonov believes the head transplant – as bizarre as it sounds – is his only chance to live.  The surgery is scheduled for December, 2017.

 

Valery Spiridonov

Mr Valery Spiridonov

Surgeon Canavero, referred to by some as “Dr. Frankenstein,” says he does not mind the controversy. Ever since word of the operation got out, he has been loudly criticized for announcing his plan for an operation that is seen by many as immoral, and by everyone as  dangerous. Most physicians familiar with the case believe that the chances of a successful fusing of a human spinal chord – merely one of many surgical challenges in this case – are astronomical.

The only precedent even remotely similar was performed earlier this year by a team of Chinese surgeons, who successfully transplanted a monkey’s head. Dr. Xiaoping Ren, at Harbin Medical University, was the team leader. And he is expected to play a key role in this ground-breaking procedure, too.

The human head transplant project is expected to cost at least $20,000,000, for the procedure that Canavero refers to as “Heaven” – head anastomosis venture. The procedure is expected to take a full 2 days. The first day would involve cooling the patient’s head to 59 degrees. The heads of both the patient and the donor would be removed and the patient’s would be attached to the donor’s body. The spinal chords would be fused together and the muscles, ligaments, arteries and veins would be connected. Spiridonov would then be placed into a drug-induced coma for 4-5 weeks to heal without moving.

If all goes well, he’ll live to wake up.

The donor of the body would be a patient who had already been declared brain-dead, but with an otherwise healthy, adult male body.

So how do you suppose Spiridonov feels about having his head cut off? Here’s what he has to say:

“If I manage to replace my body and if everything goes well, it will allow me to be free of the limitations I am experiencing. I am not rushing to go under the surgeon’s knife, I am not shouting – come and save me here and now. Yes, I do have a disease which often leads to death, but my first role in this project is not that of a patient. First of all, I am a scientist. I am an engineer. And I am keen to persuade people – medical professionals – that such operation is necessary. I am not going crazy here and rushing to cut off my head, believe me. The surgery will take place only when all believe that the success is 99% possible. In other words, the main task now is to get support for Doctor Canavero from the medical community, to let him go on with his methods and to improve them within these two coming years.”

Here’s another look at this fascinating subject:

 

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