Great news, everybody!
Dr. Sergio Canavero has done it!
I introduced you to Dr. Canavero way back in June of 2013, when he suggested that it might be theoretically possible to transplant a human head, presumably onto another human, as opposed to a comically redesigned table lamp.
I’ve checked in with him twice since then. In 2015, he announced that he had invented the substance that would make such an operation possible, namely glue (seriously). Two years later, Canavero had found a partner (a Chinese doctor named Dr. Xiaoping Ren) who had managed to transplant a mouse head onto a rat’s body . . . without first removing the rat’s head.
Then, undaunted by the sight of the two-headed ratmouse (which, fortunately, died almost immediately), a Russian computer scientist named Valery Spiridonov, who is confined to a wheelchair with Werdnig-Hoffman disease, volunteered to be the first human body recipient. All they needed was a brain-dead body onto which they could stick Spiridonov’s head instead of (and this needed to be specified given Xiaoping Ren’s previous work), not in addition to, the head that was there. (Unfortunately, this meant there would be no double-headed triple features, with the third movie “based on a true story.”)
Canavero said at the time that the human head transplant would occur before the end of that year, which was 2017. And, sure enough, it happened, although the patient, who ended up not being Spiridonov, did end up dead.
To be fair, I should mention that the patient started out that way, since the procedure was performed on a cadaver.
Still, the operation took 18 hours, and that was without having to deal with many of the details that would normally be involved, such as anaesthesia and, you know, keeping the patient alive.
Nevertheless, Canavero claims that the experiment showed it was possible to sever a head and then reconnect the nerves, spinal cord, and blood vessels. Why a live person would want to have that done is anybody’s guess, unless they had been accused of not having their head on straight. Canavero says that chopping off a dead person’s head and gluing it back on qualifies as a transplant. But how can it be a transplant if they just stuck the head back on the same body it came from? That’s like somebody who is not very handy (me, for instance) taking off a switch plate, soldering some wires together and screwing the same plate back on. That operation might take 18 hours, too, if I was the one doing it.*
And, in both cases, it’s unlikely the lights would come on after the procedure.
Plus, with a cadaver, how do you know if you connected the wires correctly, or if it’s okay if one of them is hanging loose when you’re done, or if the operation is ultimately going to result in a massive fire that destroys your house? How can you tell if the head would have been rejected if it was glued onto a body that was not the one it came from? And if the patient is already dead, who the hell are you going to bill for the operation?
In any case, Canavero now says that a head transplant on a live human is “imminent,” although the recipient of the body still won’t be the wheelchair-bound Spiridonov, who has taken himself out of the running (so to speak). He has a wife and child now, and doesn’t want to take the chance.
In other words, he has quit while he’s a head.
Instead, it’s likely the first transplant will be carried out on someone from China, where a large number of volunteers have allegedly already come forward, and where Dr. Xiaoping Ren practices, and where either doctor is less likely to be arrested or institutionalized. Also, if the operation fails there, the body can go on tour in one of those traveling “The Bodies” exhibits which provide steady income for Chinese corpses, unless there is now a U.S. tariff on such things.
Whether or not Canavero is ever successful or if his patient just ends up running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I’d like to thank him for providing material for four blog posts now. But I have to say, it may be time to bring this saga to an end, because I’m kinda running out of “head” puns.
See you soon.