Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old Russian man, last week announced that he will become the subject of the first human head transplant ever performed, having volunteered to have his head removed and installed on another person’s body.
If this sounds like some kind of sick joke, we’re right there with you, but unfortunately, this is all too real. Earlier this year, Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero outlined the transplant technique he intends to follow in the journal Surgical Neurology International, and said he planned to launch the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in the US in June, where he will invite other researchers to join him in his head transplant dream.
At the time, it sounded completely outlandish – and it still is – but the difference now is that Canavero actually has a living, breathing volunteer willing to be the guinea pig for what Christopher Hootan at The Independent says is predicted to be a 36-hour operation requiring the assistance of 150 doctors and nurses. You can read about the procedure here.
Hootan brings home what’s really at stake for Spiridonov – it’s not just death he has to worry about:
“A Werdnig-Hoffman disease sufferer with rapidly declining health, Spiridonov is willing to take a punt on this very experimental surgery and you can’t really blame him, but while he is prepared for the possibility that the body will reject his head and he will die, his fate could be considerably worse than death,” says Hootan.
“I would not wish this on anyone,” said Dr Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons. “I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.”
From speaking to several medical experts, Hootan has pin-pointed a problem that even the most perfectly performed head transplant procedure cannot mitigate – we have literally no idea what this will do to Spiridonov’s mind. There’s no telling what the transplant – and all the new connections and foreign chemicals that his head and brain will have to suddenly deal with – will do to Spiridonov’s psyche, but as Hootan puts it rather chillingly, it “could result in a hitherto never experienced level and quality of insanity”.
This is actually happening, and we’re terrified. Also, I’ve suddenly got a great idea for a movie, and judging from the creepy performance below, Canavero could pretty much be cast as himself: