This new scientific madness had the world in a fussy daze last year when an Italian surgeon, Dr Sergio Canavero, declared his intentions to perform world’s first human head transplant. Now, a Chinese surgeon has announced his plans to conduct this extremely controversial operation.
The New York Times reported an interview with the Chinese Dr. Ren Xiaoping of Harbin Medical University, who assisted in the first hand transplant in the U.S in 1999. He explained that his team is working on various researches and experiments to aid the operation, which would be carried out “when we are ready,” he said.
Dr. Xiaoping Planned Procedure for Human Head Transplant
His planned procedure involves disconnecting two heads from their bodies and then connecting the blood vessels of the body of the deceased donor and the recipient’s head. Insert a metal plate to stabilize the new neck, bathe the spinal cord nerve endings in a glue-like substance to aid regrowth and finally sew up the skin.
Leading medical experts have firmly condemned the move, terming it “premature and reckless.” Dr. Huang Jiefu, a former deputy minister of health in China, said in an interview in November,
“When the spine is cut, the neurons cannot be reconnected, so it’s scientifically impossible.”
“Ethically it’s impossible,” he added. “How can you put one person’s head on another’s body?”
Yet, report says several people in China have already volunteered for the transplant, including , a 62-year-old Wang Huanming, who was paralyzed from the neck down six years ago.
Many concerns comes from ethical standpoint. Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, emphasized on the aftermath of such transplant on the patient.
“Would a brain integrate new signals, perceptions, information from a body different from the one it was familiar with? I think the most likely result is insanity or severe mental disability.”
“Brain transplantation is not ready for prime time. To attempt to move a brain to a new body given what is known about the medicine and science involved, one would have to be out of one’s mind.”
Critics attribute such medical experiment in China to national ambition for scientific prowess, generous state funding, a utilitarian worldview that prioritizes results, and a lack of transparency and accountability to the outside world.
They believe the Chinese system is not transparent in any way, which jeopardizes medical ethics and the impression the world has on scientific researches; that is, “where anything goes.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Ren has experimented with head transplants on mice, but they have lived only for a day.
The doctor and his supporters say the operation could help people with potentially fatal diseases affecting body function, such as spinal muscular atrophy, as well as those with paralysis.
According to him, the human head transplant would be stupendously difficult.
“I’ve been practicing medicine in China and overseas for more than 30 years,” he said in an interview. “I’ve done the most complicated operations. But compared to this one, there’s no comparison.”
“Whether it’s ethical or not, this is a person’s life,” he added. “There is nothing higher than a life, and that’s the core of ethics.”
The family of paralyzed Mr. Wang, though cling to hope, they know that if the operation fails, Mr. Wang will die. But they said the impossible procedure could also save him.