Head Transplant Anyone?
I must admit, I was intrigued by this news story. A man suffering from a rare terminal illness called Werdnig-Hoffman disease has become the first volunteer to undergo a head transplant. That’s the layman’s term for spinal cord fusion. The brave patient, Valery Spiridonov, is a 31-year-old Russian program manager in the software development field. The planned surgery will be performed by Sergio Canavero, M.D. He is a physician who has thought long and hard about this procedure, but many remain unconvinced about the possibility of a good outcome for this patient.
There are others in the medical establishment that regard this attempt as foolhardy. One of them is Dr. Arthur Caplan. He is the founder of the Division of Bioethics at New York University’s School of Medicine. He opined, “I think he’s a charlatan, a quack and a self-promoter,” says Caplan, who also labels Canavero a “Looney Tune” who’s “peddling false hope.” (Urkin, 2017)
The reason for my interest dates back to my childhood. I am a baby boomer. We were the byproduct of tens of thousands of World War II veterans who, finding themselves alive and well in the aftermath of the second world war, got busy reproducing themselves with all the gusto that the “greatest generation” could produce. Being a child of the 1950’s and 60’s, I was already an aficionado of the B horror movies genre. During this time, there were some good and some not-so-good monster movies that became popular mainstays of the Saturday movie matinees. Evidence of my interest in these early monster movies was my magazine subscription for “Famous Monsters.” This was the premiere publication of that era. It was chock full of scenes from movie classics. Many of them were written, produced and directed on a shoestring budget by Ed Wood. This publication also included movie pictures from the legendary British movie company, Hammer Films. Many of these Hammer classics starred a pre- “Lord of the Rings” Sauron played expertly by Christopher Lee’s in several “Dracula” movies. Lee was pitted against the pre- “Star Wars” Gran Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing as the intrepid vampire hunter, Van Helsing.
One of these B movies was the 1959 horror classic, “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” It was not released until 1962. It remains to this day a cult classic of the B horror movies genre. This should not to be confused with the 1958 version of “The Thing that Wouldn’t Die,” or a host of others such gory films with similar plots involving decapitation in one form or another. For those who not baby boomers, you might remember the 1996 comedy sci fi classic, “Mars Attacks,” where those pesky little green men swapped the heads of Peirce Brosnan and Sarah Jessica Parker for the bodies of two dogs.
Real Life Experimental Surgery
Dr. Canavero is not pitching a movies screenplay. This is real life experimental surgery. We know this because our Orthopaedic Surgeon, Canavero, delivered the keynote address of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons’s 39th annual conference. So, this foray into the field of experimental surgery with its 36-hour, $20 million procedure involving at least 150 people, including doctors, nurses, technicians, psychologists and virtual reality engineers, was delineated in a June 2013 paper that appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Surgical Neurology International and was presented at the aforementioned conference.
It is the nature of scientific investigation that what was once science fiction can, in time, become science fact. We have seen the same progression produce wildly imaginative stories by the likes of Jules Verne and H.G Wells that later become a reality. Like all new medical procedures, this was the subject of 1970 experiment by American neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White. He conducted the first successful transplant of a head to another body when he operated on a rhesus monkey. They had not yet developed the surgical skill and techniques necessary for a successful spinal cord fusion, but they have such technology available to them today.
I sincerely hope and pray that this procedure will be successful in prolonging and improving the life of Valery Spiridonov. What I also pray is that Valery is already safe and secure in the Messiah by receiving the greatest gift every bestowed upon mankind, the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life found only in Jesus Christ. At CSI, we believe that all scientific enquiry is part of the mandate of the Creator and that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation. The more we know about the creation the more we can understand about our great God and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.
Urkin, Ross K. (2017). Doctor Ready to Perform First Human Head Transplant. Newsweek online 4/26/16 at 6:11 AM. Retrieved 3.30.17.