There’s an old saying about how important it is to keep your head when all about you others are losing theirs. This is true in general, and it is doubly true when your body is deathly ill but your head is still sound and healthy and in good working condition. A bad body shouldn’t drag a good head down, and that is why the announcement that the world’s first-ever human head transplant will take place in December of 2017 is causing such excitement.
For his own health and for the sake of science, Valery Spirinov, a 30-year-old Russian computer scientist, has volunteered to put his head on the surgical guillotine. Spirinov suffers from a chronic and incurable muscle-wasting condition known as Werdnig-Hoffman disease, which is disabling his body but not damaging his brain.
The mad scientist who claims he can perform the remarkable deed is Dr. Sergio Canavero, a decorated neurosurgeon from Turin, Italy. Up to now the Shroud of Turin is the most famous miracle associated with that city, but if Canavero can actually pull off this switcheroo it’ll make Jesus’ burial cloth selfie look like a simple parlor trick.
Head transplants have been a popular staple of B horror films. But in those experiments it’s always been a second –usually evil - head added as a companion to the original.
Here, the head of a brain-dead donor will be removed and replaced with Spirinov’s. Following 36-hour spinal cord fusion surgery Spirinov will be put into a medically-induced coma for four weeks, so his new body has a chance to adjust to the executive-level changes. He will face a long rehabilitation afterward, but the surgical team believes he could be up around and walking on his new legs within a year.
Out of his Mind or Ahead of his Time?
The announcement of this surgery has elicited a skeptical reaction from some quarters. For whatever reason high-profile American physicians have been particularly derisive and dismissive, arrogantly insisting that a head transplant is impossible and that Canavero must be a publicity-seeking con artist if he says he can do it.
But the idea that Canavero is some sort of a huckster, scammer or carnival barker seems peculiar. Why would he put his reputation on the line like this unless he really believed he could pull it off? And then put it back on again in good working order?
What we can say for sure is that if he does accomplish this, Canavero will move to the head of the class in the neuroscience field.
Heady stuff indeed.