No, this is not from the tabloid press. This is for real. An international team of surgeons is actually going to transplant a human head onto a different body. Or rather, the other way around. The Russian angle is that the patient is a Russian citizen.
So, here is my source for this story, and, once again, this is not a joke, this is for real. The story has been reported in the Western press, for example, here, therefore I will just focus on the more Russian angles to the piece. Also, I will try to break down the relationships between the different parties involved; I had to re-read the VZGLIAD piece a couple of times, there was a bit of obfuscation going on, most likely due to their trying to puff up the role of Russia and imply that Russian surgeons are ready to start performing head-transplant operations. Which is not actually the case. The operation will be performed in China, and does not involve Russian surgeons. Not yet.
International Team is Standing By
An international team of surgeons and medical experts say that they have completed all their preliminary trials and are ready to go with the head-transplant surgery. Chief Surgeon is Doctor Ren Xiaoping, from China. Apparently, Xiaoping has performed thousands of these surgeries on mice, and is confident that it will work on humans as well. The operation will take place at the Harbin Medical University in Heilongjiang, China. The surgery is expected to take 36 hours. Both the patient’s head and the donor’s body will need to be kept on ice the whole time.
The Patient Is Ready And Willing
The patient for Doctor Xiaoping’s experimental surgery is a 30-year-old Russian computer programmer named Valery Spiridonov. Valery hails from the city of Vladimir, where he was born with a rare genetic mutation: his muscles and skeleton stopped developing even in early childhood. Valery’s muscular dystrophy condition worsens with every year that goes by, to the point where he has very little control over his body any more. Therefore, Valery has bravely signed his consent to this experimental surgery: He is willing to take this risk in the hope of getting a second chance at life.
At some point, and in some unspecified fashion, Valery came to the attention of Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero, who, for several years now, has been promoting the idea of performing head transplants on humans. Canavero has many contacts among Russian experimental surgeons, for example two of his Russian colleagues are Tatiana Orlova and Evgeny Maevsky, from the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics. Canavero also has extensive contacts with American, Austrian, and Chinese specialists in this area. Canavero has expressed an interest in establishing centers in Russia to perform head transplants. This science will probably take off one way or another, but especially if the surgery with Spiridonov is successful.
Ethical Issues, Anyone?
The VZGLIAD piece ends with a cursory discussion of ethical/philosophical issues, such as “Where is the human soul located? In the head or the body?” They go through the motions of quoting a philosopher, but I notice they don’t bother to quote any theologians.
If the surgery is successful, which I hope it is, then this “new person” will obviously be Valery, because it will have Valery’s brain. And there is nothing wrong with Valery’s brain. After he recuperates from the surgery and gets used to working his new body, he will be able to walk to his job, sit down in his cubicle, and pick up his work right where he left off.
A more important issue to me, which the article delicately skirts around, is:
Where will they get the donor body from? And is that why they are on stand-by now? Just waiting for an appropriate body? And it’s not like they can just go to the morgue and grab the victim of a motorcycle accident….